Museum preschools? It’s totally a thing.

/, Parenting/Museum preschools? It’s totally a thing.

When Conner Prairie announced this past winter that it would launch a Preschool on the Prairie program, we were like: Is it just us or are museum preschools on fire lately? And what a unique way for kids to learn! It felt like time for a deep dive. CityMoms writer Laurel takes a peek for us:

Selecting a preschool is the first in a long-line of important, and sometimes overwhelming, academic decisions you’ll make for your child. While there is a wide variety of preschool styles with proponents of each, researchers across the board agree preschool engagement is beneficial for young children. And studies show, children of this age learn best when they are not pushed toward an academic goal, but rather motivated toward their own intellectual curiosity through play and developmentally appropriate engagement.

Many factors impact selecting the best option for your family and child, and with hundreds of preschools across the Indianapolis metropolitan area, how do you choose? An increasing number of local families are searching for something different for their preschooler, and you just might find it at… one of our local museums.

Throughout the United States, preschools are popping up in unique venues such as museums and zoos, in an attempt to offer children immersive experiences in enriching environments.

While this is a newer phenomenon, some museum-based preschools have been in operation for more than 50 years. Museum preschools share much with their non-museum counterparts: They provide developmental play and learning experiences that focus on the child’s social, emotional, physical, cognitive, and language growth. The major difference is the truly remarkable and stimulating learning environment a museum can offer.

Museum preschools allow students the opportunity to interact with the space differently than as a patron, and when guided by educators, the children engage in developmentally appropriate ways to stimulate their natural curiosity.

Nancy Finke, director of the Lincoln Nursery School at the deCordova Museum in Boston said the relationship not only provides students unparalleled access to art, it also allows museums to gain a better understanding of the needs of young audiences. Students in their program have exhibited a greater sense of self-regulation and an interest in experiencing and discussing art.

We are lucky to have several museum-based preschools for those families looking for a truly unique and engaging experience right here in Indianapolis.

The Children’s Museum has been operating a preschool for almost a decade and offers both part and full-time options for children ages 3-5. Students have access to the museum before guests arrive and can experience live theater performances and the planetarium. They also enjoy special activities with the paleontologists, archaeologists, musicians, astronauts and resident artists. Preschool Director Cathy Southerland says, “Object-based learning fosters a sense of wonder and vocabulary. There is an inference piece as children are asked what they think objects may have been used for. Children learn to look carefully, notice details, and create stories.”

In 2015, Newfields {formerly the Indianapolis Museum of Art} opened their preschool with, full and partial week options for ages 3-5 in collaboration with the St. Mary’s Child Center, a Reggio Emilia inspired preschool. Because the preschool is located on the Newfields campus, students have access to a variety of experiences including daily visits to the vast collection of art as well as the outdoor gardens and nature park. “You’d be surprised how kids behave differently in galleries than adults,” said Preston Bautista, deputy director for public programs. Children come to exhibits with a completely fresh perspective; “They’re extremely responsive to these things.”

WE’RE TOTALLY BINGING THIS TOPIC RIGHT NOW TOO: The great Carmel, Indiana recess debate

Conner Prairie recently announced Preschool on the Prairie, launching in August of this year. Preschool on the Prairie, for ages 3-5, offers both two and three day part-time options. The program focuses on a play-based approach to early childhood education with an emphasis on nourishing children through nature, inspiring curiosity, and project work to encourage a deeper understanding of their world. Project work allows the students to discover their passions and develop areas of interests in deep and meaningful ways.

Director, Brandy Zollman, believes the special learning environment Conner Prairie offers sets their program apart. “We have this incredible connection to nature,” she said.” We have over 1,000 acres, we have woods, a river, ponds, we have multiple breeds of animals and a crazy amount of space and resources right at our fingertips for our kids to ignite their curiosity. And that environment will act as another teacher, providing opportunities for children to immerse themselves in nature and grow.” Preschool on the Prairie blends educational styles from traditional preschools with the Montessori and Reggio-Emilia philosophies. Zollman believes when children are valued and able to engage authentically in their environment, “it looks like magic”

While these museum preschools certainly offer unparalleled experiences, not every family has the opportunity to send their child to a museum preschool.

Alternatively, there are great programming options for preschool-age children, allowing families to augment their current preschool program with immersive learning at one of our local attractions.



Laurel Price - theCityMomsLaurel Price traded in her former career of wrangling Fraternity & Sorority members as a university Greek Advisor for wrangling her her 4 year old son and two year old daughter. She recently returned to her undergraduate background of Public Relations and supports the Urban Chalkboard as their Communications Director.

Laurel loves reading {her resolution is to read at least 36 books this year}, long solo trips to Target, all things natural parenting, and {according to her husband} is becoming an obsessive environmentalist.

2019-03-27T21:05:39-05:00March 27th, 2019|