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Forest School

Children 1.5 to 7 years of age have the opportunity to spend time exploring the forest, developing their confidence, and laying the foundation for a lifelong appreciation of nature.

We spend 95-100% of our time outdoors, enjoying the seasons no matter the weather!

Forest School gives children a chance to experience place-based education, encouraging them to love the process of learning while in an outdoor setting.

Tenafly Nature Center Forest School Mission & Philosophy:

To inspire a lifelong connection to nature through child-centered learning experiences in the outdoors.

Tenafly Nature Center’s Forest School Philosophy
Children learn through meaningful play experiences. TNC Staff promote this style of learning by:
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    Creating a safe and supportive atmosphere grounded in anti-bias education principles, allowing children, parents, and staff to develop a strong community focused on a mutual love of nature.
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    Allowing opportunities for whole-child development where children engage in age-appropriate risks and expand their confidence and sense of curiosity.
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    Facilitating hands-on experiences such as nature exploration and experimentation, leading children to reflect and reason through their experiences.
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    Providing ample time for free-play and recognizing that children require freedom from adults to form meaningful connections with their peers and the environment.
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    Developing a sense of initiative; children are seen as co-learners who work with teachers to develop the activities and flow
    of the day.
“Absolutely wonderful nature space and their Forest Preschool program is truly a gem! Our son attended the Spring session and it was one of the best decision we have ever made. The teachers are attentive, gentle, kind, and very knowledgeable, and made each class fun and informative. The kids get to explore nature, learn about bugs, plants, frogs, and each other! The outdoor classroom lends itself to creativity and freedom. The trails at the Nature Center are well maintained and beautiful, year round! Highly recommend visiting the Nature Center, and definitely look into the Forest Preschool if you have a child between 3-5 years old! You will not regret it!!” 2021-2022 parent
What does skill development look like in Forest School?
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    Physical: Climbing, jumping, running, hiking, digging, shelter building, building a snowman, tool use
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    Cognitive: Literacy through print materials; language development through nature observation; math skills through measurement, counting, comparing, and estimating
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    Social-emotional: Dramatic play, working in teams, games, storytelling, conflict resolution
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    Environmental: First-hand experiences of seasonal and weather phenomena, connection to the local ecosystem, ability to identify local organisms, care of living things

Forest School offers many opportunities for children to play, explore, and form meaningful connections with others and the environment. Organizations such as the Natural Start Alliance and the Children & Nature Network specialize in research that supports the value of outdoor education in early childhood settings. Our program focuses on developing gross and fine motor skills, social-emotional awareness, risk assessment and risky play, as well as other foundational principles rooted in a play-based learning philosophy. We often keep in mind the following quote from Rachel Carson’s Sense of Wonder– “I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel…It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate”.

Weather Information:

Forest School is held outdoors for roughly 95% of our time. In the event of extreme weather (lightning, high winds, or frigid temperatures) moves indoors*. Appropriate attire goes a long way toward comfort in the outdoors! The opportunity to witness nature no matter the weather leads to a greater appreciation and respect for our environment. We use sources like Reima, Polarn O. Pyret, Didrickson’s, and Oaki to help kids have the right gear to extend their time playing in nature.

*Afternoon Forest School and Family Forest School may use reschedule dates as the weather indicates.

Risky Play:

During time at Forest School, children will be supported in reasonable risk-taking behaviors through free play and guided experiences. In order to maintain proper supervision for these kinds of activities, we maintain a ratio of one educator for every five children. All staff members carry a walkie-talkie to maintain communication lines with other members of the Forest School team, or with other Tenafly Nature Center staff should the need arise. A first-aid kit also carried for each group.

Staff will help students to understand the difference between appropriate risk and hazardous behavior while monitoring an area for safety hazards. By engaging in risky play such as balancing on a log, climbing and sliding down rocks, or splashing in a stream, children gain self-confidence as they try new activities just outside of their comfort zone. Using new tools such as shovels, hammers, and veggie peelers can develop a feeling of competency and self-sufficiency in a child.