Forest Preschool Parent Handbook

Our Preschool year begins September 11th! Get your copy of our parent handbook here.

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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 and a strong foundation, 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 location.

Enrollment now open for the 2017-18 School Year running Sept. 11 - June 14!

Enroll for the full year or by trimester.

Note: We do not recommend that a child starts in Winter.


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.

Other attendance requirements: Children must be out of diapers and needing only minimal assistance with toileting. Because of our outdoor classroom without walls, children must be able to stay with the group and follow directions, at least most of the time.


2017-18 School Year

Choose M-Th, M/W, or Tu/Th

Location: 4-H Acres, 418 Lower Creek Road, Ithaca

Times: 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM

2017-18 Program Dates

M/W 9/11 - 12/6 (and no program 10/9 or 11/22)
Tu/Th 9/12 - 12/5 (and no program 11/23)

** Fall add-on available: For an additional fee, Fall-enrolled families may sign up for the weeks of December 11th and 18th by contacting the registrar directly.

M/W 12/11 - 3/19 (no programs 12/22-1/7, 1/15, & 2/19-21)
Tu/Th 12/12 - 3/15 (no programs 12/22-1/7, & 2/20-22)

M/W 4/2 - 6/13 (and no program 5/28)
Tu/Th 4/3 - 6/14

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. You'll get reminders about our free play days and other special events.

Resources & Downloads:

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

    • 2 Days
      Monday / Wednesday

    • from $2,425 to $2,725
    • Full Year tuition includes a 5% discount applied after a $250 deposit is paid for each trimester
      3 equal payments
    • September  - June
    • 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM
    • 2 Days
      Tuesday / Thursday

    • from $2,425 to $2,725
    • Full Year tuition includes a 5% discount applied after a $250 deposit is paid for each trimester
      3 equal payments
    • September  - June
    • 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM
    • 4 Days
      Monday - Thursday

    • from $4,445 to $4,945
    • Full Year tuition includes a 5% discount applied after a $455 deposit is paid for each trimester
      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. We run, jump, climb, sing, dance, and practice creative intuition, letting the lessons and interests of the children develop the games as we play them.

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, while developing a physical understanding of various animal habits and practices.

Navigating and Mapping - As we wander we practice “song-lining”, that is, telling a story using landmarks that will help us find our way back. We also practice other “lost-proofing” skills, as well as introductions to maps and mapping, cognitive development, and work on developing a sense of place.

Group Singing and Storytelling - Group engagement is a staple of our programs. Songs and stories are used to inspire, teach, set the mood, lighten the workload, practice listening skills, bring a group together, convey lessons about our environment and ourselves.

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 into personal understanding.

Primitive Skills - We demonstrate and practice basics such as shelter building, fire making, gathering, cooking, basket- and tool-making. These 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 and the physical skills based world.

Stalking, Hiding, and Camouflage - These activities provide teachable moments for ecological concepts. Learning the skills of “invisibility” also requires quieting the mind and controlling the body. We also use stalking and hiding games to practice self awareness and improve awareness about how animals naturally move in their environments.

Celebration - Inspires learning and builds community. There is always something to celebrate! Our celebrations brings us full circle, from learning and awareness outside our bodies, back to gratitude within.

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." We explore the ability level of each child to provide appropriate challenges. We practice 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, help focus their minds, and incorporate lots of sensory experiences to 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 engaging with each issue and activity creatively and consciously. 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!

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.

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.

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.

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!

Will Ithaca Forest Preschool prepare my child for kindergarten?

We believe so. 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 and nervous system 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.

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 amount of time we spend indoors depends on the year, but even in the coldest Winters we manage to be outside for part of the morning. The decision of whether to be inside or outside depends on risk management and how best to accomplish our goals of helping children connect to nature, self, and others. 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 self-care skills, how to dress for Winter play, animal tracking, and beginning to recognize trees in Winter.

How will I know when my child is ready for this program?

Our requirements are that children be 3 by September 1st of the year in which they enroll in Ithaca Forest Preschool or Growing Wild Spring Camp, and that they be out of diapers and needing only minimal assistance with toileting.

Because our program is outdoors with no walls to "catch" children, it is also important that children be able to stay with the group. Some very young children are not yet group-oriented, so this can be a challenge for them.

Another challenge is that they need to be able to follow the instructors' directions most of the time. Our staff are amazing at relating to preschoolers and finding ways to entice them without always giving direct instructions. But when it comes to managing hazards, sometimes they have to be direct and children have to be able to do what is being asked.

You can find a complete list of expectations--what you and your child can expect from us, and what we would expect from you and your child in our Parent Handbook.

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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