Nature Explore Program

Developed in conjunction with the Arbor Day Foundation, our program follows Ten guiding principles, based on years of Dimensions' field-testing. They represent a well-rounded mix of experience that can and should occur outdoors for preschool and elementary children.

"Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you."--Frank Lloyd Wright

The Growing Problem of Children’s disconnection from nature

"Without continuous hands-on experience, it is impossible for children to acquire a deep intuitive understanding of the natural world that is the foundation of sustainable development. A critical aspect of the present-day crisis in education is that children are becoming separated from daily experience of the natural world” - Robin C. Moore and Heb H. Wong.


Director's Update

Children’s curiosity is boundless! And what better way to encourage their exploration than through gardening!!! Cedar Valley Preschool and Child Care Center offers children of all ages opportunities to explore their environment -- and enhance it -- through gardening.

Each age group can participate. The youngest, 18-24 months and two year olds, can help with the butterfly garden.

Our three year olds planted the lovely vines entwined on the trellis in the book nook. They have watered and weeded faithfully.

The four and five year olds are responsible for the container gardens. Every year our friend, Jean Seeland, from the Cedar Valley Volunteer Center, writes a grant proposal to teach the children about philanthropy and gardening.  She spends seven weeks sharing stories, ideas and projects about gardening and taking good care of their world, making it more beautiful for all to enjoy. The process culminates in the children planting and maintaining the container gardens throughout the summer.

And finally, the six through ten year olds in our school age group are in charge of the vegetable garden. This year they grew tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, peppers, green beans and squash ----a new addition. We have all enjoyed the bounty in salads, wrap sandwiches, stir fry, and of course, with ranch dressing!!

Our gardening projects have provided a variety of experiences for the children. Thy have samples new flavors, learned about nutrition, gained in literacy with new found vocabulary, tried new recipes, met new animal friends (toads, birds, and garter snakes) and found that plants have names, too!

Cedar Valley Preschool and Child Care Center is the only Nature Explore Certified outdoor classroom in Black Hawk County ---offering and abundance of outdoor nature centers --- gardening, bird feeding, art and science, reading, music and movement, “messy materials” and much more!

Book Nook

A special area outdoors to allow children quiet time to rest, read a book or observe others.

Building Area

Building with blocks provides many chances to strengthen visual-spatial, mathematical and abstract thinking. Providing blocks outdoor that are different from the typical blocks found inside classrooms gives children a chance to experiment in new ways.

Butterfly Garden

The butterfly garden helps children connect with the wonders of nature, learn about natural systems and seasons, and develop keen observations skills. 

Climbing & Crawling

Especially designed to help children successfully master physical challenges in order to gain self-confidence and a sense of control over their environments. Learning how to maneuver their bodies in a variety of settings helps children gain skills that keep them safer. Crawling areas also help strengthen children’s thinking in ways that support mathematical and visual-spatial skills.


Our composting bin helps to develop eco-friendly skills that will last a lifetime.


Animal prints mark the path to our Nature Explorer area, and remind the children that they are entering a special place.

Lara McCabe Learning Center

The Lara McCabe Learning Center is a place where groups can meet together at the end of their outdoor time to share individual discoveries and learning that occurred. The Learning Center also hosts our building materials, picnic tables for outdoor lunches, and water tables for exploration.

Special thanks to the McCabe family for donating our shelter in memory of their special little girl, Lara McCabe.

Messy Materials

Exploration, experimentation and interaction with wild natural areas are becoming harder to find for today’s children. This area is specifically designed to allow children to be "messy" – and can encourage them to use their imaginations and experiment with a variety of natural objects. Children with sensory integration challenges often excel in this area and gain skills in self-control and and relocation after being given enough opportunities to use large muscles to dig or carry heavy objects from place to place.

Music & Movement

Music and movement experiences are vital to children’s healthy development. This setting provides an ideal place for children to experiment with musical and movement expression. Outdoor music and movement areas produce a place in children’s lives where they are able to make music and dance in an unstructured way, allowing for improvisation and creativity, without the noise concerns of these activities indoors.

Nature Art

As children work with natural materials such as sticks, pine cones or leaves, and arrange them into patterns, they develop close observation skills, classification skills and a sense of appreciation for the beauty of the natural world. They also gain understanding of weight, mass, texture and shape.

Open Area

Children need enough space to run, jump, dance or play active games. This is important for children’s health and well-being, especially in light of dramatically increased rates of childhood obesity and diabetes.

Sand Area

Working with sand provides a different tactile experience than working with soil. Sand areas provide ideal settings for positive social interaction.

Tree Bench

A bench wraps one of our large shade trees in the outdoor area and gives the children a chance to relax, look up and gaze at the bird house.

Vegetable Garden

This area provides children with experience in planting and harvesting vegetables. Interacting with natural vegetation helps children connect with the wonders of nature, learn about natural systems and seasons, and develop keen observations skills. When children are able to help plant, care for and harvest a garden, they learn a sense of responsibility and often develop increased appreciation for eating fresh produce.

Water Play

Hands on activities allow children to experience and change the flow of water, observe water currents, discover that some objects ink and other float. These early science experiences help children develop and internalize an understanding of the physical laws of nature.

Wheeled Toys

Our circular path wheeled toy area is a space where children can manipulate wheeled toys (such as bikes) away from the flow of the rest of the classroom gives them another chance to use large muscles, encouraging exercise.