by Carla Occaso
MONTPELIER — Families in search of a full-time preschool program will soon have a unique, high-quality child-care option just two miles from downtown Montpelier. North Branch Nature Center’s Forest Preschool, in operation since 2012 as a morning program, will open its doors this fall as a full-time, licensed preschool.
Forest Preschool, Vermont’s first nature center-embedded preschool, is modeled on the European style Waldkindergärten in which children spend time immersed in nature, playing and learning in local un-landscaped areas. In the fields and forests at North Branch Nature Center, Forest Preschoolers spend the majority of their hours learning through free play in and with nature, following their curiosity and engaging all their senses to allow for meaningful learning and connection to place.
When temperatures begin to fall in December, the center’s newly renovated barn (now called The Swallow’s Nest), with its panoramic views of the meadow, offers a cozy space for songs, stories, meals and rest. Otherwise, the children are bundled and layered appropriately, ready for dynamic movement and learning opportunities outside.
“Forest Preschool empowers children to be active in their own learning process. The fields and forest offer an unparalleled classroom in which to pay careful attention to each child, nurture their development and support each individual’s learning process,” said Preschool Director Mary Zentara. Whether scaling dinosaur rock, engineering animal dens or exploring the many possibilities of mud, the children take advantage of endless opportunities to build resilience, develop agency and self-efficacy, cultivate caring relationships and lay a solid foundation for a lifelong love of learning.
Forest Preschool is hosting an Open House on Feb. 18, from 10 a.m. to noon. Pre-registration for the 2107–2018 school year is currently open. To request a form or learn more about the program call 229-6206, visit www.NorthBranchNatureCenter.org, or stop by in person at 713 Elm St.