Forest Preschool Now Enrolling for Fall!

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Where the wild things grow...

If you believe that children belong outside, and that the tools of imagination are what build a happy childhood, then welcome  to our wooded world. Nature is the teacher. We are mentors and facilitators, helping young children connect with their bodies, the elements of nature and each other within a safe explorative space at our East Hill Trillium Camp and West Hill locations.

We believe the seeds of a deep connection to nature are in each of us from the time we are born. We’ve applied our knowledge of mentoring and ancestral skills to the concept of the “forest preschool” — a concept that is gaining popularity around the world right now — to create a nature-immersed outdoor preschool with a village feel.

What we do at Ithaca Forest Preschool looks and feels like play most of the time, but our caring and skilled mentors are subtly weaving in peacemaking, community-building, and a deep respect and love for the Earth. Children go home each day from our “invisible school” tired, muddy, and happy. They’ve learned a ton without even realizing it! Spontaneous play, cooperative problem-solving, feeling comfortable in nature, empathy for other living things, and moments of wonder and delight...these are gems we observe every day at Ithaca Forest Preschool. Read about a typical day.

Ithaca Forest Preschool runs at our beloved Trillium Camp located at 4-H Acres, Lower Creek Road in Ithaca.

Age policy:Children are eligible to enroll if they will be three by September 1st and will not reach the age of six before January 1st

East Hill Location - Monday through Friday, choose any days

4-H Acres, 418 Lower Creek Road, Ithaca.
Spring Trimester: March 28 - June 17, 2016 (no program the week of April 25)
Program Times: 9:15 AM - 12:15 PM

West Hill Location - Tuesdays!

This program runs in conjunction with the Primitive Pursuits Tuesday Homeschool Program at the YMCA Outdoor Adventure Area on Rte 79.

Spring Trimester: April 5 - June 14, 2016 (no program Tuesday, April 26)
Program Times: 9:15 AM - 12:15 PM.

2016-17 School Year

2016-17 Program Dates: Ithaca Forest Preschool follows the ICSD school year calendar as closely as possible. Exact program dates will be posted soon.

  • Fall Trimester: September - December, 2016
  • Winter Trimester: January - March, 2017
  • Spring Trimester: April - June, 2017

Program Times: 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM


Enrollment is not complete without the assigned non-refundable deposit. We are unable to hold placement without a deposit.

We operate on a self-determined sliding scale, where everything paid above the minimum is a tax-deductible donation to our scholarship fund. Please consider paying over the minimum to help families to attend who wouldn't otherwise be able.

Limited scholarships and tuition installment plans are available. Please inquire.

Not quite ready to enroll but want to stay in the loop?
Call our office at 272-2292 ext. 195 or join our
Forest Preschool Interest List.

Resources & Downloads:

Full Year Tuition Costs
Pricing for enrollment for a full year of the Forest Preschool

    • 2 Days
      Monday / Wednesday

    • from $2,310 to $2,610
    • $62 - $70 per week
      3 equal payments
    • September  - June
    • 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM
    • 2 Days
      Tuesday / Thursday

    • from $2,310 to $2,610
    • $62 - $70 per week
      3 equal payments
    • September  - June
    • 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM
    • 4 Days
      Monday - Thursday

    • from $4,235 to $4,735
    • $114 - $128 per week
      3 equal payments
    • September  - June
    • 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM
    • Questions?
      per week

    • If you would like help choosing the best option for your child, please get in touch with us for assistance with pricing, scholarships, and special arrangements.
    • Get In Touch

Why We Teach Young Children:

When Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, spoke in Ithaca some years ago, he said he had concluded that unstructured time in nature is most important for kids’ development and nature-connectedness. But, he said, “I just don’t know how you do that in a program.” Well, we do. We provide plenty of time for kids to follow their own curiosity, their own agendas, and preserve for them a sense of timelessness while we as skilled mentors gently steer them where we need them to go, keeping them safe and weaving in learning, social skills development, and community building. Don’t we want our children to develop a naturalist intelligence early on in life? Researchers have studied the amazing abilities American preschoolers have to identify corporate logos. We would rather the patterns our pre-literate children recognize be deer tracks, maple leaves, and robin song.

Our Core Routines:

Giving Thanks—we often start or end each day with a gratitude circle, and pause at other times as well to acknowledge what we value and think outside ourselves.

Hazard Identification—what every beginner needs to know to stay safe outdoors. We also work to develop common sense-- “the least common”.

Sensory Awareness Activities—exercising our senses sharpens them, and for young children it’s a learning experience just to be aware of our senses and articulate what we’re sensing. Attaching sensory information to a learning experience also makes it more memorable. Focusing on senses relaxes and quiets the mind and body.

Games—sometimes organized, often not. Many are the wonderful, spontaneous creations of imaginative kids.

Animal Tracking—while we’re wandering, or anytime animal sign is present, we practice the fundamentals of pattern recognition that will later translate into reading skills. We also like to catch small critters, teaching kids how to do so respectfully and safely.

Animal Forms—thinking and moving like specific animals, we exercise our bodies and imaginations.

Navigating and Mapping—as we wander we practice “songlining”, that is, telling a story using landmarks that will help us find our way back. Other “lostproofing” skills, as well as an introduction to maps and mapping, improve cognitive development and sense of place.

Group Singing and Storytelling—staples of every day. Songs and stories are used in so many ways: to inspire, teach, set the mood, lighten the workload, practice listening skills, bring a group together, and more.

Children Telling Their Stories—For young children, talking about what they just did is a chance to practice language skills as well as reflect on and integrate new experiences.

Primitive Skills—such as shelter building, fire making, gathering, cooking, basket- and tool-making are hands-on activities that involve experiential problem-solving and creativity; they also give kids a boost towards self-sufficiency and feeling “at home” in nature.

Stalking, Hiding, and Camouflage—activities that kids adore, and that provide teachable moments for ecological concepts. Learning the skills of “invisibility” also requires quieting the mind and controlling the body.

Celebration—inspires learning and builds community. There is always something to celebrate! Our celebration brings us full circle, back to gratitude.

How We Teach Young Children:

Nature is the teacher. We are mentors and facilitators, helping kids:

  • Connect with themselves
  • Connect with nature
  • Connect with others
  • Connect with what has come before us

We work with children’s natural curiosity and passions. We gently motivate them to push their own comfort zones or “edges”, reading the ability level of each child to provide appropriate challenges. We provide a safe, community-oriented learning environment where each individual’s gifts are honored and children develop positive relationships with themselves and others. Children love it when adults play, learn, and wonder with them; as mentors we are part of the group, too! We engage their imaginations and help them focus their minds, and incorporate lots of sensory experiences to help make learning stick.

Young children learn mainly through play and mimicry. Most of what we do in a day looks and feels like play. Our instructors are also constantly role modeling: how to dress for the weather, how to be safe around fire, being active learners, caring for the land, expressing gratitude, and more. Every day, we also use core routines that build these skills and habits: loving to learn, being happy, focusing attention, being physically active, being helpful, caretaking the Earth, being loving, and quieting the mind.

Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions

Is toilet-training required?

Yes. Children must be out of diapers and needing only minimal assistance with toileting. Children are encouraged to pee outside and to poop in a child potty that is kept at the teaching site. There is also an indoor bathroom a short walk away.

What is a Forest Preschool?

Forest Preschools are the U.S. version of Forest Kindergartens (Waldkindergarten), which have been popular in Germany, Switzerland, and Scandinavia for decades. There are a growing number in the U.S. We are on the cutting edge of nature-based early childhood education!

What About Winter?

Winter is a wonderful season to explore. We do a lot of snow play and animal tracking, go for walks, build fires, and make warming wild teas. We also do spend some time in our heated building doing indoor tracking activities, crafts, games, songs, and stories. The children’s enjoyment of Winter is directly related to how well-dressed and fed they are and how relaxed parents are about the idea of their children spending time out in the cold. Things they learn in Winter include a lot of self-care skills, how to dress for Winter play, animal tracking, and beginning to recognize trees in Winter.

Will my child be outside the whole time?​​

We are outside the vast majority of the time; however we do have access to several places to go “in”, including a tipi, a pavilion, and a heated building with bathrooms. Parents learn to dress their children for the weather, and children learn how to stay--or get--warm and dry. Our motto is, "There is no bad weather, only bad clothing." And remember:

Whether the weather is cold
Or whether the weather is hot
Whether the weather is fair
Or whether the weather is not
We'll weather the weather
Whatever the weather
Whether we like it or not.

Is food provided?

No. Please supply your preschooler with plenty of healthy snacks, lunch, and water each day. These are active children, and they get HUNGRY! Protein, fat, and fiber are especially important for providing long-burning energy.

Is there public transportation or carpooling available?

4-H Acres is an on-demand TCAT stop, and there is a bus that can arrive right around 9am. There is also a bus that can arrive at noon, but you would need to ask TCAT how to access that. We do not arrange carpooling, but we may be able to help you get in touch with other parents who are interested.

Will Ithaca Forest Preschool prepare my child for kindergarten?

According to Ithaca City School District kindergarten teachers, the most important skills for entering kindergarten are social-emotional skills. Self-care skills, listening to others in a group setting, managing conflict while playing with others, making transitions smoothly, and self-regulation skills are all prominent in the forest preschool setting. The outdoor environment and our child-led curriculum provide myriad opportunities for cooperation, collaboration, conflict management, and the development of emotional resilience.

Cognitive scientists say imaginative play with few or no props builds a skill set called "executive function", which is a better predictor of school success than IQ (from an NPR report titled “Old Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills”, February 20, 2008). It is well-known that physical activity is essential for healthy brain development (see, for example, Teaching With the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen). Recognizing patterns in nature may translate to recognizing letters and words, and being able to develop a mental picture while listening to stories told orally is an important pre-reading skill. The importance of nature play for academic success is now so clear that author Richard Louv wrote a column in September 2014 titled, “Want Your Kids to Get Into Harvard? Tell ‘Em to Go Outside!”

At Ithaca Forest Preschool, your child will get practice with these specific kindergarten-level skills: listening to and following multi-step directions; taking turns; identifying colors; counting; simple math; working with backpacks, coats, zippers, and boots; tying an overhand (shoelace) knot, feeding him or herself lunch in a distracting environment, and managing her or his stuff.

When can I drop off and pick up my child?

Supervision begins at 9am and ends promptly at 12:00pm. In cases that a parent may have an emergency or be late to pick up please make contact with the office.

What else should my child bring?

It is very important for your child’s safety that he/she comes properly equipped each day AND you will leave a complete change of clothes at school in case they are needed. Please be aware of weather forecasts and dress your child appropriately.

Regardless of the forecast, your child will always need: waterproof boots, raincoat, and rain pants (or warm snow boots, winter coat, snow pants, and mittens in winter), a non-cotton warm layer, a hat (with a brim for sun, or a warm hat in winter), plus food, water, a drinking cup, and a daypack to carry it all in. You can find complete lists of required items and clothing do’s and don’ts in the Ithaca Forest Preschool Parent Handbook.

At Orientation we will address clothing specifics, and before cold weather sets in we will offer a workshop on “Dressing for Winter Fun.” Also feel free to call or email us with questions, including where to get the required items!

Who are the instructors and what experience and education do you require?

The Ithaca Forest Preschool instructors are Primitive Pursuits instructors or in some cases highly trained volunteers. You can read staff bios on our people page. Although staff may rotate days, we all work together as a team.

We require a combination of experience and education in some or all of the following: outdoor education, early childhood education or development, primitive skills, naturalist skills, and “coyote mentoring” as described in the book Coyote’s Guide to Connecting With Nature. All of our instructors and volunteers must go through background checks but we do not require teaching certification.

Need a trail guide?

We’re happy to help you navigate. Give us a call at the office (607) 272-2292 ext. 195 or use the link below

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