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Get to know Sprouts.

The mission

At Sprouts Art & Nature School, we are making space for children to imagine play be independent explore connect

so they can become grown-ups that will give respect. create. take responsibility. care. be lifelong learners.

The Sprouts mission - to allow children to explore, be independent, create, play and imagine to grow into adults that connect, take responsibility, be lifelong learners, give respect and care.

Sprouts is an urban nature school:  an open space – much like your own backyard or public park – to explore, learn, discover, and enjoy nature as part of our every day lives.

Sprouts philosophy is based in layers and years of research, as you can find on many other sites.

the research

There is plenty of research showing how the Sprouts Art & Nature School experience supports our mission.  We have a sister website with all the info. 

the staff

Sprouts is Caity & Ellen. There is no other place like it.
  • 50% Owner & Founder
  • Co-Director Sprouts Art & Nature School
  • Lead Teacher: Full-Day Childcare
  • BS Early Childhood Education: Birth – Grade 3
  • Special Educator Licensing Endorsement
  • Organization Administrator
  • Nutrition Manager
  • Construction Specialist
  • Sprouts Art Expert
  • 50% Owner & Founder
  • Co-Director Sprouts Art & Nature School
  • Lead Teacher: Preschool & After-School
  • BS Early Childhood Education: Birth – Grade 3
  • Special Educator Licensing Endorsement
  • Accounting Administrator
  • Human Resources
  • Plant Specialist
  • Sprouts Nature Expert

Sisters Caity & Ellen perform each and every job involved in running a small childcare center.  With occasional substitute assistance from their mother, Claire (“Grammy”), Caity & Ellen are the teachers at Sprouts from open to close each day.

Caity & Ellen grew up in Champaign, attending Unit 4 schools followed by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Caity currently lives in central Champaign with her three children, husband, and too many pets. In addition to her family, she loves crafting, Lake Michigan, and reading.

Ellen lives with her husband, dog, and two sons in central Champaign. She loves her family, organizing, plants, and many forms of making art. 


Children instinctually grow, learn, connect, play, and create on their own initiative and in their own time. Our job, as educators, parents, and community adults, is to nurture and facilitate this process by providing the space, place, and pace they require. Each of these important aspects is integrated carefully into every facet at Sprouts.
Space is one of the three pillars of the Sprouts philosophy - which also includes pace and place. Space refers to the environment, size of environment, and location of the preschool.
Place is one of the three facets of the Sprouts philosophy, also included with pace and space.
Pace is one of three main facets of the Sprouts philosophy, along with space and place.


The small, micro-school atmosphere at Sprouts Art & Nature School is what creates the ability for families to form tight relationships with one another. Almost like a mommy-and-me class - that the mommy doesn't have to attend.
At Sprouts, a mixed age classroom for children ages two through age six creates a beneficial environment for all involved, including the children pictured, an older and a younger preschooler playing together.
A large area in which to play is a cornerstone piece of the Sprouts Art & Nature School philosophy, like this child jumping between rocks.

- a small community

Sprouts has two teachers, 18 students (at one time), and approximately 25 families total each school year. Many of these families continue at Sprouts for many years – children attending from early childhood into elementary school.

This small number of staff, families, frequently aligned values and hobbies, and children of similar ages creates a tight-knit community forming lasting meaningful relationships.

- a mixed age group

Sprouts has only two classrooms – and generally operates as only one. Children don’t ‘graduate’ from one classroom to another or make big changes based on age. Most children spend several years with Sprouts, allowing them to form deep connections with the teachers, their friends and classmates, and the space.

A mixed age group also allows the children to do much more learning from one another than from just adults. 

- a large area

Children need room to grow.  They need the opportunity to run as fast as they can, to jump and climb and discover, space to be alone and space to be part of a group. 

At Sprouts we provide children with over 7500 square feet of nature to call their own.  With only 20 people (2 staff & 18 students) using the nature playground at once, this amounts to 375 sq ft per child of play space.


One unique quality of Sprouts is the urban location - providing a variety of benefits to students such as this photo of the Sprouts preschoolers taking a walk on a neighborhood sidewalk.
a consistent environment
At Sprouts, spending a large amount of time in a specific outdoor location gives children, like the one photographed here, a chance to bond with their surroundings and truly love the nature they encounter.

- an urban setting

Sprouts sits in a residential neighborhood in the heart of Champaign, IL. The smells, sounds, and general hustle and bustle of small city life surrounds the property. The nature you’ll find here is familiar and accessible.  

This urban setting is a key factor in our philosophy: that nature is not only found “somewhere else,” in a place you must travel to or visit; nature is everywhere!

- a consistent environment

At Sprouts, children have the chance to engage in-depth with the same space over time. This consistency forms a sense of knowing that emerges only with longevity.

The small changes, incremental growth, and other secrets of nature reveal themselves through this careful observation.

- a specific location

Children are in the prime developmental stages of forming attachments to places. What place could be better to connect with than the place we have chosen to live?

The very things that make central Illinois so special are the things we spend time engaging with. The plants, animals, insects, and weather patterns that we explore every day are forming our fondest memories and growing a strong connection to the area.


Free Play is a cornerstone part of the Sprouts philosophy and it makes up the most of the children's preschool schedules as well.
Autonomy is one facet of the Sprouts philosophy included in the children's pace throughout the day at preschool.

- free play

Children need the freedom to direct their day.  They need the time to immerse themselves in their play without an adult timeline. As Mr. Rogers taught us, “play is the work of childhood.”

At Sprouts, children to lead the pace of their day; they are free to explore the entirety of the playground and any materials provided as they please. Our schedule allows for extended un-interrupted periods of free play.

- autonomy

At Sprouts, children don’t move from activity to activity with a group – they are free to choose activities according to their wants and needs. The schedule is fluid and individualized.

When given the time to learn, explore, and discover at their own pace, children learn self-awareness, provide their own entertainment, and develop their preferred skills and talents.

- independence

As children flex their imaginations and gauge their strengths and weaknesses they are developing their self-confidence. 

At Sprouts, children learn to assess and take risks, make attempts and fail, and how and when to ask for help. 

They are learning to trust themselves and their abilities, develop grit and resilience, and building a deep sense of self-confidence.

the environment

The third and possibly most important teacher at Sprouts: the environment.
The Sprouts Nature Playground, pictured here, is a large space where children may run, play, explore, jump, discover, build, climb, interact and relax. Children can choose where and how to play, when to change playmates or play items, and use loose parts play.

Sprouts Nature Playground

The Sprouts facility sits on a city lot of over 1/3 of an acre in the heart of the city of Champaign. The side and back yard of the building is enclosed with an 8-foot privacy fence creating the Nature Playground.

At Sprouts the majority or entirety of each day is spent on the Nature Playground where children are allowed to roam, play, and discover freely.

A variety of native and non-native gardens, including prairie, butterfly, bird, and woodland, are planted throughout the playground to introduce children to all the wonderful living things that can be found in Illinois flora and fauna.

Also offered are spaces for imagining, like the giant bird nest and the mud kitchen; places for developing balance and gross motor skills, like the log steps and balance beams; areas for building and creating, like the outdoor easel and loose parts collections; and areas for performing, for running, and many other forms of play.

Sprouts Interior

Equally beloved (but not as often used as the nature playground) is the Sprouts building. 

Two classrooms, each with their own bathroom, cubbies for student storage and a small kitchen for making lunches are all arranged to bring the outdoors in. 

As with the playground, there are areas for all kinds of playing that children may interact with at will.  Puppets, trains, puzzles and books are all housed here – though they often make their way outdoors when the weather permits. 

When the weather is too cold to remove mittens art projects can be done indoors and full-day children can eat lunch and rest  in the warmth as well. 

A map of the interior of Sprouts Art & Nature School, this photo shows the layout, furniture, and entrances to Sprouts.

Ready to begin your journey with Sprouts?