Skip To Main Content

The Nature Preschool at Good Shepherd Episcopal School

The purpose of the preschool is to foster a lifelong connection to nature and a passion for learning in students age three to five years old, by providing a rich outdoor environment for creative exploratory play as a means for children to develop into enthusiastic learners and empathetic members of society with a higher regard for our planet and all of its inhabitants.


The Nature Preschool at GSES (formerly Oakwood House) began in 2016 in the backyard of Director Sarah Sinclair. Ms. Sinclair became interested in connecting children with nature after working several years in licensed childcare and after reading Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods in 2007. While later pursuing a biology degree and working in environmental monitoring and research, Ms. Sinclair’s curiosity and interest in Europe’s waldkindergartens and forest schools grew. With the birth of her first daughter and being unable to find a forest school or regular outdoor nature-based program for her to attend, Ms. Sinclair concluded that the only thing to do was to start the very program her daughter needed. While she misses environmental fieldwork and tromping through Virginia’s streams in the name of science, she is even more excited to connect a whole new generation with nature. From 2016 to 2020, Ms. Sinclair ran Oakwood House completely outdoors in her certified backyard wildlife habitat. She is over the moon to bring The Nature Preschool to Good Shepherd and the Forest Hill neighborhood, connecting more children than ever to the rich and beautiful world outdoors.

What is nature-based preschool?

It is an early childhood learning environment where nature is at the heart of the program. Nature-based preschools combine high-quality early childhood education and environmental education practices. These nature-focused programs lay the foundation for environmental literacy and academic success while supporting the social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development of the whole child. Outdoor play is a crucial component of nature-based preschools.

Students at The Nature Preschool spend most of their time outside, utilizing the GSES natural playground, garden, and nearby Forest Hill Park for a child-centered emergent curriculum. Students play outdoors in all weather, year-round, only coming inside to our nature-based classroom in the event of severe weather (thunder or ice storm, high winds), naps, or special learning activities. Children get messy at The Nature Preschool…stomping in mud, rolling down grassy hills, splashing in creeks…and parents must be fully on board for this messy and fully engaged way of learning. 


Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. - 12 p.m. Parents may choose either Monday, Wednesday, Friday attendance or Tuesday, Thursday attendance. There is an extended day option (until 2 p.m.) for the Monday, Wednesday, Friday program. The Nature Preschool program mirrors the traditional school year and follows the Good Shepherd Episcopal School calendar. Tuition is billed annually for the school year (September through May) or can be broken into even monthly installments.

To see more about The Nature Preschool's activities, please be sure to check out our Instagram page.

Note that to enroll, students must meet the Virginia Department of Health's immunization requirements which may be found here. GSES does not accept Religious Exemptions for vaccination requirements. The Nature Preschool is no longer accepting applications for the 2024-25 school year. Please call the office at 804-231-1452 to inquire about our waiting list.

preschool student planting plants
Nature Preschool students drawing
nature preschool student gardening
preschoolers examining a bird's nest

The Nature Preschool at GSES

The Nature Preschool at GSES is certified by the Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools (ERAFANS) and is a member of ERAFANS, the Natural Start Alliance, the American Forest Kindergarten Association, the North American Association of Environmental Education, and the National Association for the Education of Young Children.