Sumner preschool gives students the Washington outdoor experience

Timber Creek teacher Matt Fortin points out some woodpeckers to his students.

Sumner’s first all outdoor preschool is getting ready to welcome its first spring and summer season.

The Timber Creek Farm and Forest school was opened by Matt and Tinneca Fortin September 2015 in order to give toddlers and elementary school children the chance to experience the outdoors, something they think many children no longer get a chance to do.

“This is a lost tradition. There’s not enough kids being out in the woods anymore,” Matt said. “We’re trying to give them that exposure and trying to recreate something that once was.”

The school started after Matt decided to change his career from a construction worker to something else, but he wasn’t sure what – so he asked his kids, who said they could see him being a teacher.

After thinking about what he would like to teach, Matt decided to get his early childhood education specialty certificate from Cedarsong Nature School on Vashon Island, the first all-outdoor preschool and kindergarten in the U.S.

Sustainable education

The lessons Timber Creek teaches its students revolve around farming and nature.

The morning routine often consists of taking children to visit the various animals the school has penned, including several chickens, goats, a bunny and even a turkey.

A small creek that runs downhill from the animal pen contains frogs and tadpoles, and kids often try to sneak over to catch a glimpse of the hopping amphibians, Tinneca said.

The teachers help the kids learn and identify forest plants, like stinging nettles and ferns that can help heal the sting of nettles.

With the encroaching spring and summer seasons, the Fortins, with the help of their farmer neighbors, are cultivating two acres of farmland to grow various seasonal crops for students to interact with.

Kids also grow their own food in a small garden. Unsurprisingly, strawberries are the number one request, but Matt and Tinneca were surprised when many children said they wanted to grow broccoli as well.

Much of the food the students eat while at Timber Creek is either grown by the school or by nearby neighbors. If it is store-bought food, though, it’s always organic, and the Fortins focus on serving meals that are vegan friendly.

Tinneca and Matt also teach the kids about composting, and the school features an outdoor composting toilet, which the teachers found the students were oddly attracted to.

And when it rains, as Washington weather is apt to do, the lessons continue, although maybe under a large tree.

With these various lessons about the outdoors, Timber Creek hopes to instill a love of nature that will follow students throughout their lives.

“A lot of younger experiences, 3, 4, 5 years old, we don’t remember them up here,” Tinneca said, pointing to her forehead, “but we remember it back here,” she said, pointing to the back of her head. “It can influence how we go about the rest of our lives.”

Various programs

Timber Creek focuses most of its time on younger children from ages 3 to 6.

The preschool classes are only eight students large – full time classes are three days a week, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Part-time classes are also available for one or two days a week.

For students between the ages of 7 and 12, there are Saturday camps every other week that teach kids more about how they can be nature’s stewards.

And throughout the year, there are one day Saturday camps for both younger and older students to give everyone a chance to experience the outdoors.

The Fortins give parents a small warning for folks who want to visit; GPS and Google Maps often gives incorrect directions to their school (one family ended up in the middle of a muddy field, they said), so they recommend following the directions they give on their website, timbercreekfarmandforest.com, instead.