DECEPTION PASS STATE PARK — On a recent bright yet chilly day, a group of preschoolers played on the beach at Bowman Bay, wrapping each other in bull kelp, burying each other in sand and climbing on driftwood they had deemed to be “boats.”
For the youngsters, it was just another day at school, where their classroom is the great outdoors.
“We get to be in an interconnected relationship with the land,” said Anastasia Brencick, a board member with Fidalgo Island Nature Preschool.
Founded two years ago, the school was originally based out of Washington Park in Anacortes, where the students played among the trees, pretending to be birds and finding fairy houses.
In September, the school moved to what some may call a grander stage: Deception Pass State Park.
“I was immediately enthralled with the idea of having little kids use this park to learn,” said Deception Pass State Park Manager Jason Armstrong, who is also on the preschool’s board. “With this park already being one of the iconic parks in the state park system, I think it’s the perfect place.”
As they joined Armstrong in picking up insects, tying knots in bull kelp and drawing faces with ranger hats on them in the sand, the kids seemed to think the partnership is perfect as well.
“They get to have those personal experiences out here that are tied to nature,” Armstrong said. “They’re playing in the same area that people have been for thousands of years playing.”
It’s the first step in what Armstrong hopes will become a legacy of outdoor education for the park, which is the first in the state to have a partnership with an organization such as Fidalgo Island Nature Preschool.
The park is also applying for two grants that would help it expand its outdoor education offerings.
“We need time to teach people about the value of this park,” Armstrong said. “We want to create great stewards.”
One of the grants would expand on the nature preschool experience, providing a Saturday program for those students to spend time in the park with their families, Armstrong said.
“It’s trying to get parents to engage with their kids outside,” he said. “The families can learn some of the same things the kid is learning.”
That program would run for 82 Saturdays over a two-year period, Armstrong said.
The other grant would be for an afterschool program aimed at fifth graders, where about 25 students would be able to attend classes at the park three days a week.
That program would include a summer “capstone” class — a partnership with the Washington Trails Association — where kids could focus on the outdoors and recreation, including learning how to build trails.
For that program, Armstrong said the park is seeking other partner organizations to help teach kids about the outdoors — things such as how to tie flies for fishing, build a tent or how to paddleboard.
“Any of those things that could enhance the program,” he said.
Fidalgo Island Nature Preschool is also hoping to receive funding that will allow it to grow its program and make it accessible to more families.
Together, the preschool and the park hope to not just get kids started off on the right foot with their educations, but also to meet a growing need for affordable and accessible child care.
“We want this to be accessible for every child,” Brencick said. “I’m interested in how we can make this help change the world.”