At Merry Hearts, we are with children outside as much as possible every day to be in direct contact with nature. This is the foundation of our program. Meals, snacks, crafts, music, story time and even nap times are experienced out of doors as weather permits. Our mission in getting outside and into natural areas is directed toward the endless sensory and imaginative opportunities in nature as well as toward our overall philosophy based on strengthening our own connections to the earth and its seasons.
Merry Hearts is Waldorf-inspired, in that we place a great emphasis on creative play and the development of the whole child. We focus on imaginative development and laying the foundations for the abstract thinking required later in reading and higher math skills. We also place great emphasis on learning and using manners and polite language. Children learn to interact cooperatively, to share toys and ideas and to clean up together. Children sing songs, construct with natural manipulatives, (blocks, acorns, sticks, shells), paint with watercolors, and listen to stories told using puppets. Children are surrounded by beautiful sights, sounds and textures.
Merry Hearts also focuses on practical learning. Children at Merry Hearts practice activities such as gardening, using buttons and zippers, dish washing, thorough hand-washing, setting and cleaning up a table and using polite language to express their needs and desires. Each child's growth and development is carefully observed and nurtured.
Therapeutic Benefits of Nature Play Based Education:
All over the world, there is a movement to re-connect children with nature. A growing body of research suggests that psychological and physical health improve for children when they spend time in nature on a regular basis. At Merry Hearts, we like to look at how children benefit from nature from a developmental perspective. We like to go a little deeper and see how the brain, body, and spirit can benefit from our unique curriculum.
The Merry Hearts curriculum is carefully planned and activities are selected based on their therapeutic value and ability to inspire children to think in creative ways. See below for some of the ways our programs help to nurture child development.
Gross Motor: Children challenge their vestibular system also known as their “balance system” and coordination by moving in all directions while climbing trees, scaling rocks, rolling down grassy hills, and running from one place to the next. They develop strength and endurance by hiking up hills, carrying heavy rocks, bricks, and sticks.
Attention: Children improve attention when they are playing outside on a regular basis. Moving helps to activate and ignite the brain to pay attention.
Visual Skills: Children’s visual skills are nurtured when children frequently play outdoors. Moving on a regular basis improves the vestibular system, which helps to support all six eye muscles. Children also work on skills such as visual tracking when searching for things out in nature.
Auditory Processing: Playing outdoors provides ample opportunities for children to naturally practice auditory discrimination skills, such as listening to the differences between a Robin's call and a Chickadee's call.
Fine Motor: Grabbing hold of heavy and large objects such as limbs of a tree help to develop strong grasping patterns in little hands – getting the hands ready to do finer and more delicate work such as holding a pencil. Also, our activities such as sewing, molding clay, and working with wool fiber help to fine-tune these motor skills.
Social-Emotional: We allow for ample unstructured playtime outdoors, which leads to creative social adventures between the children. This is often the time where they make their own societies out in the woods, build structures together as a group, play pretend with peers, and come up with their own games.
Creativity: The Merry Hearts way inspires children to think independently and openly. Our environment, resources, and activities are carefully selected to allow time and space for kids to create, build, and use their imagination.
"Children must be given the time to dream, to touch, to feel, and most of all to construct. To build their ideas, to expand on their questions, and to develop a deep sense of rootedness and connection to the world around them." ~Earthskids.com