Cathedral is also home to the Eaglet Pre-School Program, a nationally certified Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom. This dynamic aproach focuses on the development of the whole child: Socially, Emotionally, Spiritually, Academically, Physically. The Eaglet Nature Explore Preschool is broken into two classes: Eaglets I for three year-olds, and Eaglets II for four and five year-olds.
- Faith Formation: Preschool students begin their journey of Faith with a dynamic religious curriculum that includes educational trips to the Cathedral and its grounds, lessons about Church holidays and seasons, presentations by our community's religious, an outdoor prayer grotto, and interactive work using components of Catholic Icing. This instruction acts as both an introduction and exploration to a relationoship with Jesus.
- Exploratory Learning: We take play seriously! Classroom areas are re-imagined throughout the year as students explore nature, writing, art, construction and much more. Students are provided rich learning opportunities through a balance of interest-based exploration and thematic lessons: letters, sounds, numbers, counting, colors and sign language all occur in a fun and open environment.
- Social Development: Many of our Eaglets will soon become full-fledged Cathedral Eagles. As such, a pillar of the preschool program isthe development of social skills for success in and out of the classroom. The ability to share, respect other's space, and work within a group are just a few of the skills children will learn.
- Emotional Development: Developing positive peer relationships and identifying and expressing feelings appropriately are among the skills taught and reinforced. There is a plethora of research on the impact of nature and Nature Explore Outdoor classrooms on the emotional development of children (including reduced incidents of hyperactivity, depression, tantrums, and internalized frustration).
“Our nature as humans is to connect with the wonders God made,” said Jeremy Ekeler, Cathedral principal, “so our Eaglet classrooms are predominantly natural materials: tree stumps, bamboo fencing, wall vines, garden beds, interesting native plants, worms, and dirt. Really, not too different from the way a lot of folks my age grew up playing outside.” This approach also carries over to the indoor classroom, which will have less posters and plastic and more natural materials, like stumps, plants and rocks.
Ekeler, who serves on the Early Childhood Advisory Board for Prosper Lincoln, and the Eaglet staff researched the approach and project two years prior to its final completion in April 2017. The project has been joined by an All-Star team, including Nebraska Nurseries and Color Gardens, Landscapes Unlimited, Neighborhood Tree, the Nebraska Natural Resource District, multiple volunteers, and primary funding from the Flanagan Innovation Grant of the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln.
Ekeler said, "Nature Explore and Dimensions Childhood Research Foundation earned our trust for a few reasons. First, it's a local venture supported by Dimensions Educational Research Foundation and The Arbor Day Foundation. The fact that we have an approach right here in the Lincoln area that has been under the microscope of researchers for over twenty years is amazing. Not that this group needs any more credibility, but they've built classrooms like the one we're developing across the country."
“The Cathedral team has done a wonderful amount of research in looking at the interplay between these programs and child learning and development,” said Msgr. Perkinton, Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Lincoln.
The professional development is ongoing, which is a cornerstone of the approach. Eaglet I teacher Patricia Korensky said she is excited about the opportunities brought about by the new classroom: “I am thrilled to encourage nature and exploration with our little ones! We are hoping to foster a love for learning by letting the kids get messy, touch and feel nature, and learn through playing with God's creations."
Laura Johnson, who teaches the Eaglet II program, said, "It's a wonderful combination of approach, professional development and environment. To place those three things upon our foundation of a vibrant Catholic faith formation is a true blessing to Cathedral and our community."learning by letting the kids get messy, touch and feel nature and learn through playing about God’s creations. And the more we discover about nature's impact on child development the more excited we get at the future of our Eaglets!”
Ekeler said the Nature Explore Classroom pushes back against the trend to rush children into their education.
“The academics will happen – we really aren’t too concerned with having kids who are reading chapter books and doing double-digit addition and subtraction when they’re in kindergarten. What is vital to us are kids who stay curious. Curious kids make for curious adults,” he said. “We don’t want a school culture in which 3-, 4-, or 5-year-olds are concerned with a grade, or about getting a wrong answer. We should all be more willing to explore and experiment, rather than being concerned about mistakes.”
Much of the above story is written by Jess Wahlmeier for the Southern Nebraska Register.
Holy Family Extended Care
Cathedral of the Risen Christ is also home to the Holy Family Extended Care. This is a fun, faith-centered learning experience for students ages five to 13.