Forest Preschool Parent Handbook

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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.

Register online NOW for 2018-19! Choose "Forest Preschool Seasonal TRIMESTER" in your online Account Portal

Scholarship Applications Welcome!


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.


School Year: Fall, Winter, Spring

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

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

Times: 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM

2018-19 Program Dates & Payment Deadlines

Join us for Ithaca Forest Preschool Orientation on Sunday, August 26. Additional information will be emailed to those who complete registration.

9/12 - 12/20 (no program 11/12, 11/21 & 22)

Winter*: 1/7 - 3/21 (no programs 1/15, & 2/18-22 school break week of Winter Camp)

Winter is open to any child who participates in the Fall program, as well as new 4 & 5 year olds. Parents/guardians of NEW participants please check in with the Forest Preschool Coordinator to make sure it's a good fit for your child at this time.

3/25 - 6/13 (no program 4/15-19 school break week of Spring Camp & 5/27)

Payment in Full Deadlines

Trimester (Fall) / First Payment for Full Year: June 15 OR upon registration

Trimester (Winter) / Second Payment for Full Year: Oct. 15 OR upon registration

Trimester (Spring) / Third Payment for Full Year: Jan. 15 OR upon registration

Placement can only be held with a non-refundable deposit.

Limited scholarships and tuition installment plans are available. Please create an account, register for the offering (paying the deposit), and then complete a scholarship application from your online account dashboard.

We continue to gratefully accept tax-deductible donations to our scholarship fund. Please consider making a donation to help families who couldn't otherwise enroll their child. Email to set up a one-time or recurring donation.

Not quite ready to enroll but want to stay in the loop?
Join Our Forest Preschool Interest List. You'll get reminders about our free play days and other special events.

Resources & Downloads:

Early Bird Pricing - Full Year Tuition 2018-19
Pricing for enrollment for a full year of the Forest Preschool

    • 2 Days
      Monday / Wednesday

    • from $2,350
    • Register by July 1, 2018
      Payment Schedule
    • Next Payments Due Oct. 15  | Jan. 15
    • 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM
    • 2 Days
      Tuesday / Thursday

    • from $2350
    • Register by July 1, 2018
      Payment Schedule
    • Next Payments Due Oct. 15  | Jan. 15
    • 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM
    • 4 Days
      Monday - Thursday

    • from $4,350
    • Register by July 1, 2018
      Payment Schedule
    • Next Payments Due Oct. 15  | Jan. 15
    • 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 food provided?

No. Please supply yourself/your child 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?

For programs at 4-H Acres: it is an on-demand TCAT stop, and there is a bus that can arrive right around 9am. We do not arrange carpooling, but you are welcome to discuss this at drop off or pickup with other participants/parents who may be interested.

Is toilet-training required?

Yes. Children must be out of diapers/pull-ups and needing only minimal assistance with toileting. Children are encouraged to pee outside and to poop in a child potty that is at our base camp. There is also an indoor bathroom a short walk from our base camp. Sometimes we are too far from a potty and need to use the nature bathroom (pee on the ground, poop in a hole) with assistance.

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.

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.

Registration Details

What scholarships are available?

Scholarship Information

At Primitive Pursuits we are committed to making our programs available to as many people as possible. To this end, we generate scholarships via our sliding-scale fee on a program-to-program basis. Any contributions made over the minimum of the sliding scale for all our programs are tax-deductible donations to our scholarship fund. Thus, scholarships are limited to the sum of these funds and are awarded based on equitable distribution.

We review donations the first week of each month, and make decisions regarding scholarship awards soon thereafter.

Recipients will be notified by email and given a timeframe within which to accept or decline the amount awarded and complete payment of the balance.

Additional Outside Sources for Scholarships:

Although we do our best to make sure that everyone can attend our programs, please also consider applying right away to the following supplemental financial assistance programs, to allow them time for processing your application:

  • Ithaca Youth Bureau ECHO Scholarship - This scholarship is through the Ithaca Youth Bureau and intended for youth in Tompkins County, at any time of year.
  • The Town of Danby offers grants to youth up to age 21 for camps and afterschool programs. Info & application: or on the Town Hall bulletin board.
  • If you live outside of the Towns of Ithaca and Danby, inquire at your local town hall for possibilities of youth scholarships. Please let us know of any resources you find!

What to Know About Our Scholarships Before Applying:

  • The maximum scholarship we can supply for any program is outlined below by program type.
  • Larger scholarships are considered under extenuating circumstances, and on a case by case basis.
  • Scholarship applications must be submitted a minimum of 30 days before the program start date to ensure consideration. You may apply closer to the start date, but we cannot guarantee a response before the program begins.

Maximum Scholarship Amounts by Program:

  • After School, Homeschool and School Break programs: 50% of program cost up to $100.
  • Growing Wild Summer Camp: $50 per week for a maximum of 2 weeks of camp per child.
  • Summer Day Camp: $100 per week for a maximum of 2 weeks of camp per child.
  • Overnight Camp: $225 per week of overnight camp for a maximum of 2 weeks of camp.
  • Forest Preschool Trimester: $100 in scholarship for the first day/week, then $50 for each additional day/week (e.g., If you are registered for Mondays & Wednesdays, the maximum amount in scholarship would be $150)
  • Adult Workshops: 50% of program cost up to $100.
  • Wilderness Skills/Nature Mentoring: up to $300
  • Wilderness Year: up to $1000

How to Apply:

  • Create an Online Account Portal using a computer and Firefox or Chrome (not Safari or Explorer, not on a tablet or smartphone)
  • Sign up for your selected program(s) and pay a deposit (EXCEPT summer camps after May 1, email to arrange deposit payment thru Registrar).
  • Complete a separate scholarship application for EACH participant and EACH program. Epic Days are not eligible for scholarship funds.
  • (eg. Robin Bird for Base Camp starting 7/1/18, requesting $50; Jay Bird for Growing Wild Camp starting 7/1/18, requesting $25).
  • If you are applying for a scholarship for more than the maximum amount listed above, please email our office at with information about your circumstances.
What is your cancellation and refund policy?

Should you choose to change or cancel an enrollment for ANY reason, our policies are as follows:

Transfer or Refund requests must be made BY EMAIL to the Registrar, even if you have discussed changing your enrollment with another staff, such as a field educator. The effective date of all such requests is the date in which you email the registrar of your refund request.

Email with your full name, phone, the participant's name, the full program name(s), and the program start date(s).

When permitted, transfer of credit to a different program must be done by the Registrar and incurs a $15 admin processing fee per transfer.


1. If you cancel 60 or more days prior to the program starting date, you are entitled to a full refund, minus the deposit and any donation above the base rate of the sliding scale.

2. If you cancel between 30 and 60 days prior to the program starting date, Primitive Pursuits will retain half the program tuition, after the deposit and any donation above the base rate of the sliding scale.

3. If you cancel fewer than 30 days prior to the program starting date or after the program has begun, there will be no refunds.

SUMMER: Day Camps/Growing Wild

1. If you cancel before May 1st, choose

  • full credit transferable to another summer camp in 2018 with available space ($200 Growing Wild; $300 Day Camp) OR
  • partial refund (full fee minus non-refundable deposit and any donation above the base rate).
  • full credit transferable to another summer camp in 2018 with available space ($780 Overnight Camp) OR
  • partial refund (fee minus non-refundable deposit and any donation above the base rate = $530).

2. If you cancel between May 1 to June 1, choose:

  • partial credit transferable to another summer camp in 2018 with available space ($100 Growing Wild; $200 Day Camp; $390 Overnight Camp) OR
  • partial refund (50% of fee minus non-refundable deposit and any donation above the base rate).
  • partial credit transferable to another summer camp in 2018 with available space ($530) OR
  • partial refund (50% of fee minus non-refundable deposit and any donation above the base rate = $265).

3. After June 1, there are NO refunds or credit transfers.

SUMMER: Overnight Camps

1. If you cancel before April 1st, choose

  • full credit transferable to another summer camp in 2018 with available space ($780 Overnight Camp) OR
  • partial refund (fee minus non-refundable deposit and any donation above the base rate = $530).

2. If you cancel between April 1 to May 1, choose:

  • partial credit transferable to another summer camp in 2018 with available space ($530) OR
  • partial refund (50% of fee minus non-refundable deposit and any donation above the base rate = $265).

3. After May 1, there are NO refunds or credit transfers for Overnight Camps.

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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