The Bigger Picture

Students at St. Aidan’s Preschool pick out worms from soil to feed to fish.

A sign at St. Aidan’s Preschool reads “Certified Wildlife Area — This property provides the four basic elements needed for wildlife to thrive: food, water, cover and places to raise young.’’ Preschool director Teri Sturges has vegetable gardens growing behind the classroom where the children learn how to grow their own food. They also have chickens. “[At St. Aidan’s Preschool,] it’s all about nature and being in love with it,” Sturges said. “When you’re a child and you fall in love with nature, then, of course, you learn to respect it and love it and take care of it. My goal is to always surround the students with opportunities to study and interact with nature.” 

One of the things students at the preschool are working on is the Monarch Butterfly Project. Sturges and the children have planted milkweed, which the caterpillars feast on. Milkweed has diminished locally, making it hard for the butterflies to thrive. Students are working on a project to replenish the dying population of Monarch butterflies.

“Paradise Cove and Bonsall Canyon used to be a stopover for the butterflies,” Sturgest explained. “I’m not sure this is still the case, but I sure would like to have it happen again.”

The children point out several caterpillars outside — and they already have been taught not to touch them. When the caterpillars are almost ready to cocoon, Sturges brings them inside with water and milkweed so the children can observe the process. The children released three butterflies into the wild, which had come out of chrysalis over the weekend. 

Sturges explained that if children don’t have a hands-on experience, it is hard for them to grasp what they are learning. She implements what is called place-based learning.

“You learn everything you can about the place where you live, and then you can expand it into a world vision,” Sturges said. “A lot of people like to teach about saving the rainforest, but for kids this age, that’s a concept that [they] don’t get because it’s not in their world.”

Sturges teaches global lessons on a local scale so when students learn about the rest of the world, they are able to apply the same concepts to the bigger picture.

After explaining the Monarch Butterfly Project, Sturges brought out some rich soil, filled with worms, for the kids to explore. They picked out a handful of worms and proceeded to feed them to fish.

After that, the children turned the compost, scooped a few cups of dirt, and collected twigs, leaves and a few roly-polies (pill bugs). Soon, they made a habitat for the critters, which they would observe for a day or so, and then return back to the wild. “This is a school where they [children] are taught sustainability for the environment, for themselves and for their neighbors and other values that may not be a high priority at every preschool,” St. Aidan’s Reverend Joyce Stickney shared.

At St. Aidan’s Preschool, children eat a healthy morning snack of strawberries and other dried fruit and nuts. They use durable cups and plates, which they wash themselves. The campus and adjoining St. Aidan’s church have banned the use of plastic water bottles.

Open houses are scheduled regularly throughout the year for families to visit the preschool, meet the teachers, and see for themselves the campus and learning environment.

Visit or call 310.457.8899 for more information.