Children ages 5 – 13+ are invited to come together in a small community of children and Teacher Naturalists to explore, imagine, and learn on the farm and in the forest. The NatureYear program is conducted almost entirely outdoors!
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 interests 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!
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.
The NatureYear Parent Handbook has details about our program philosophy, policies, and more.
A Typical Day at NatureYear
Part of the philosophy behind the NatureYear program is to not let schedules get in the way of authentic learning. For that reason, we have a daily structure that is flexible depending on the weather, child interest, or what is happening in the forest or on site at any given time. However, we know that all children benefit from routines and from knowing what to expect.
8:50 – 9:20 AM: Arrival
Arrive dressed for the weather and ready to play outside! A teacher will be waiting by the parking lot for curbside drop off from 8:50 – 9:20 AM, or parents are welcome to park and walk their child to the farmhouse anytime after 9:20 AM.
Morning play and chores
Immediately after arrival time, children make their way up to the cabin and have time to enjoy morning play in the forest. This is an important time to make social connections, engage in imaginative play, and connect with our outdoor space. Children also have the option to participate in morning chores and helping jobs. These chores vary with the season. Examples include splitting firewood, gathering kindling, caring for farm animals, watering in the garden, and sweeping and tidying our cabin.
Morning Meeting and Snack
After morning play time and chores, we gather and greet each other and talk about the things that are happening on the farm and in the forest – this is our “Nature Note” time, and it is one opportunity to learn about the seasonal happenings in nature. Morning meeting is also when we talk about the teacher-led activities that will be offered. Children have a hearty snack (brought from home) during this time.
After our meeting we take a few minutes for each child to visit their chosen tree. At our special trees, we take some time to sit quietly, to pay attention to our surroundings and to observe the way the environment changes throughout the year.
Teacher Led Activity Time
Teachers offer activities each day that take advantage of the season and the interests of the group. Children choose the activity that is most appealing to them and join that teacher. Activities are a combination of instruction, exploration, learning, and discovery. Some activities are more skills-based and teacher-directed (for example, learning how to split firewood with an axe), and some start with inspiration from a teacher and then follow the children’s interests (for example, a hike to a vernal pool to check out salamander eggs that turns into following fox tracks in the mud and building forts in nearby brush). We usually eat lunch in our small activity groups and then meet back at the cabin around 1 PM.
Free Time and Child Led Activities
Most afternoons include time for free play and child led activities. The group gathers and each child who has a skill or an idea that they would like to share makes a proposal for their activity. Children who did not elect to lead an activity choose which of the proposed activities they want to participate in or go to an agreed upon area for free play, and teachers supervise and facilitate as needed. Child led activities are often inspired by our morning adventures. Examples have included games, nature arts (nature masks with mud and leaves!), imaginative play (make a tree stump band and a bakery!), and extended time with the farm animals, garden, and wetland. This time helps develop leadership skills as well as cooperative decision making and social skills.
All of our age groups use journaling time to encourage students to reflect on their day. Examples of journal prompts include: What was something new that I tried today? What did I learn today? What was challenging for me today? Something I am proud of is…. Students may write or draw in their journals and teachers provide support as needed.
Closing Circle and Dismissal
At the end of our daily adventures, we gather and close out our time together. The pick-up window is 2:45 – 3 PM.
Is it all unstructured play?
You’ll notice in the schedule above that we have a combination of free play time, teacher led time, and kid-led time. Free play times are unstructured (but not unsupervised – boundaries and reasonable choices and teacher supervision always apply). Teacher led times have many opportunities for student choice and voice, and students are expected to make a choice and participate in the activity they choose. Child led times usually revolve around play, and students can choose the activity they are most interested in.
At the end of each day, the teacher team writes an email to share with that day’s families. The daily email shares a recap of the day’s learning and play. It is a great springboard for questions and conversation at home. Examples of emails we previously sent are HERE.
We post to Instagram daily, including children whose parents have signed off on permission to do so.
Once per year, we offer parent/teacher conferences. These are a great chance to connect more deeply with one of your child’s NatureYear teachers if you choose to sign up for a conference!
Once each season (fall, winter, and spring), we offer Parent Tag-Along Days. On these days, a parent or other special adult is invited to join their child for a partial or full day of NatureYear! Many parents look forward to these days as a way to see some of the special things their child tells them stories about.
Age Groupings and Child to Teacher Ratios
NatureYear offers several age groupings. You can indicate age grouping and schedule preference when you apply.
RAVENS and OWLS
- Mixed age, with children ages 6 – 13 in the same group.
- Depending on overall enrollment, some of the groups may trend younger (ages 6 – 8), and one or two usually trend older, for children ages 10 – 13+.
- 14 children each, with two teachers and one assistant teacher for each group.
- These groups are offered Monday – Saturday on a FULL DAY schedule (9 AM – 3 PM with optional enrollment in the Kids Unplugged after school program on weekdays from 3 – 5:30 PM)
ROBINS and BLUEJAYS
- Ages 5 – 6
- 8 children with one teacher and one assistant teacher
- The ROBINS AND BLUEJAYS groups are offered at the same time, such that sometimes the children will enjoy playtime in a group of 16 children with 4 staff, and most meetings and teacher-led activity time will happen in their small group of 8 children with 2 staff.
- The daily schedule (described above) for this age group is modified as best suits the energy and interests of the group. For example, some days we might let imaginative play extend until lunch time and then share the daily Nature Note over lunch! These groups may have fewer formal meetings and transitions, however they still include more structured teacher led time and rich learning opportunities in addition to lots of opportunity for imagination and play..
- These groups are offered on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays on a FULL DAY schedule (9 AM – 3 PM with optional enrollment in the Kids Unplugged after school program from 3 – 5:30 PM)
- Mixed age, with children ages 5 – 13 in the same group.
- 8 children with one teacher and one assistant teacher
- The FOXES group enjoys a shortened version of the NatureYear day. Children participate in Opening Meeting, Teacher Led Activity Time, Child Led Activity Time, and Closing Circle.
- These groups are offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays on a HALF DAY schedule (12 PM – 3 PM with optional enrollment in the Kids Unplugged after school program from 3 – 5:30 PM)
- The HALF DAY schedule is intended for families who are homeschooling and is not likely to be a good fit for children who are enrolled in a traditional school program. Homeschoolers are also welcome in the full day groups!
- Participants in the full day groups may be enrolled for one day per week. Participants in the FOXES group may apply for enrollment for one or both program days.
A view of age groups by day of the week for the 2021 – 2022 school year is HERE.
Learning and playing outside in all weather
We really do spend our days outside in all weather! We will give you all the information you need to prepare your child for outdoor learning and play in all weather. We have Gear Guides for each season that specify the kinds of layers and outerwear your child will need to be comfortable. None of the needed layers are hard to find, and none need to be very expensive. We try to keep it simple and realistic. We also have loaner gear available for families that need it.
In case of severe weather:
- We will operate as usual in the rain, enjoying outdoor activities
- Severe weather that may bring the group inside includes lightning, high wind warning (we use open field spaces as much as possible if it is too windy to be in the woods), extreme cold, hail, heavy downpours that feel unsafe to stay out in.
- We may close or operate on an altered schedule if we can anticipate severe weather for the majority of the day.
- We will close for snow/ice days as usual if travel would be dangerous for families and staff.
- Refunds or credits will not be issued for severe weather closures.