By Rebecca Holcombe
Director of Community Programs

Each weekday in the woods at Common Ground, you can find children ages 5 – 13 playing, learning, problem solving, sawing, tending fires, climbing, engaging in and resolving conflict, observing, experimenting, and immersing themselves in the natural world. Welcome to NatureYear!

Kids get outside all year long

NatureYear is a Common Ground program that connects children with deep, sustained, and meaningful experiences with nature. NatureYear is a full day forest school program for children ages 5 – 13. Students attend one day per week instead of reporting to their usual public school, and the program also welcomes homeschoolers.

Nature preschools and forest kindergartens are an emerging trend across the country, and that is worthy of celebration! However, these programs are largely private preschools serving children ages 5 and under, with very few programs serving school aged children. NatureYear opens this opportunity to school aged, public school children. Children do not outgrow the need to play, to be immersed in nature, and to develop problem solving skills just because they have aged out of the PreK years.

Our cabin in the woods is the home base for NatureYear, and our explorations take us onto the farm, through the gardens and animal yards, and into the forested trails of West Rock Ridge State Park. Activities follow the seasons and the interest of the children. Fall brings harvesting and cooking from the gardens, jumping in leaf piles, fort building, nature hikes, and helping to put our farm to bed for the winter. Winter is wonderful for animal tracking and searching for signs of wildlife, cooking and being cozy around a campfire, snow play and snow shoeing, and nature arts in our farmhouse classroom on the coldest of days. Spring brings the magic of baby animals on the farm, a wetland full of frog eggs and tadpoles, seeds to be started, and forest streams to be stomped in!

At Common Ground, we deeply believe that education does not only look like students in desks and teachers at the front of the room as experts. NatureYear is one way of breaking down that box – both getting children outside for much needed time in nature AND valuing child voice and student led learning as a real, authentic, powerful way to build the next generation of thinkers and leaders.

Children learn to care for the Bees that pollinate our farm

Children develop self-confidence and an “I can do it!” attitude as they problem solve, try new things, and learn from challenges. Encouraging children’s curiosity and persistence as they develop as thinkers and explorers is a core value of the NatureYear program.

Friendships, community, and group building are also an important part of the NatureYear experience. Children and their teachers will practice group decision making, positive peer interactions, problem solving, and teamwork as they determine the group’s daily activities and adventures.

Our NatureYear students are academically successful at school. Their parents report increased self confidence and increased enthusiasm for trying new things. Our teachers observe students testing their limits, asking new kinds of questions, and stepping up into new kinds of leadership roles as they develop relationships with place and with students and teachers.

NatureYear is about getting muddy, holding a chicken, and being in tune with the cycles of the seasons. Just as importantly, it is about trying new things, being challenged, problem solving, building confidence, learning to be part of a community, to care for shared spaces, and about developing relationships with place, with friends, and with teacher mentors. It is a little bit of magic in the woods!

To see some of our daily adventures, check out the NatureYear Instagram HERE, or one of our two YouTube videos, HERE and HERE.

The application period for the 2018 – 2019 NatureYear program is open from March 15 – May 15, 2018. Applications from a diverse community of learners are welcomed and encouraged. Children who will be between 5 – 12 years old in fall 2018 are eligible. Program information is available HERE.