During the 2018-2019 school year, Wildrock piloted the Nature Friends Preschool Program, a brand new year-long program dedicated to bringing free play and a nature experience to the preschoolers in the Charlottesville City Schools. 

Through a Bama Works grant and with support from Preschool Director Sheila Sparks, Wildrock was able to offer a nature play program for all ten pre-kindergarten classes of the Charlottesville City Schools, serving approximately 180 students. Given that nature connection is vitally important for healthy child development, the overriding goal of the program was to increase children’s comfort in nature and to support their innate curiosity in the natural world. 

The program included two field trips to Wildrock, one in the fall and one in the spring, to enjoy an immersive nature experience and free play on our playscape. In addition to the two field trips, we visited each of the six schools four times throughout the year, bringing loose parts play and sensory play to green spaces in the school yards not typically used for play.  

Our four onsite visits revolved around the theme The Animals Around Us! We paid particular attention to animal homes and the elements animals need in order to survive and thrive in their habitats. Because our six-session program spanned the school year, we were able to observe the seasonal changes in our own environment and discuss how these seasonal changes affect the animals living around us.

We know that preschoolers thrive in structured and predictable routines. For this reason, each of our onsite visits and field trips followed a predictable format in which small groups of students rotated among three guided activities:

  • A hands-on, hands-in SENSORY bin station.

  • A HABITAT craft that we will make and leave at the school for students to revisit after the program.

  • An open-ended FREE PLAY station that will invite students to work together as they play, imagine, construct, and move throughout a natural environment.

In addition to the activities provided by Wildrock, the Nature Friends Preschool Program also included two visits from The Green Grannies of Charlottesville. This group of volunteer environmental activists joined us for both the first and fourth visits to each school, performing an original song about local wildlife for and with the kids.


The Nature Friends Preschool Program was a fantastic success! We were able to engage students in free, unstructured play in nature; reinforce concepts of stewardship and environmental protection; explore underutilized school green spaces; and celebrate getting our hands dirty!

We are looking forward to expanding the program to include additional schools and classes in the future. For older students, we have developed the Nature Discovery Play Trail program. We bring nature play and team-building activities to any available green space at your school, inviting students to work and play together in nature. Details and fees are available upon request.

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