Ithaca forest preschool

All-Outdoor Nature Immersion for Ages 3-5

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.

Ithaca Forest Preschool

Our Philosophy

At Ithaca Forest Preschool, nature is the teacher. We are mentors and facilitators, helping young children grow and connect in our outdoor classroom at 4H Acres outside Ithaca, NY. We believe the seeds of connection are within us all from birth. In our all-outdoor preschool with a village feel, we nurture those seeds of connection to self, others, nature, and those who have come before us.

We honor the land and the Cayuga Nation people who have lived on it for centuries. In addition to teaching respect for the Earth, we teach respect for all cultures and we celebrate diversity.

 

Advantages of a Forest Preschool 

  • Time in nature is important for children’s development.

  • Forest preschoolers are learning social-emotional skills while also forming connections to the world around them and to a few special adults.

     

  • Children are encouraged to be curious, ask questions and explore, which helps to create a life-long love of learning.

Ithaca forest Preschool

Our School

We are a school without walls where children are able to explore and learn from the natural world year-round. We cultivate a community that supports children’s curiosity and imagination while also forming deep connections to nature. We create a home where children grow and feel connected to their peers and the Earth.

What we do at Ithaca Forest Preschool may look and feel like play to your child, but our caring and skilled mentors have a subtle way of weaving peacemaking, community-building, and a deep respect and love for the Earth into every day. Children often lead the way as we follow their curiosity, but we also gently push them to try new things. They go home each day from our “invisible school” tired, muddy, and happy.  

What Parents are Saying...

“Ithaca Forest Preschool prepared our sons to really appreciate nature, to pay attention to details we may not notice nor know anything about, and to love winter; to this day, they sprint outside to play in the cold!”

R.A., Ithaca Forest Preschool parent

What Parents are Saying...

“Ithaca Forest Preschool is a place where your children will learn lots of things you may not know yourself, which they love to come home and share with you.” 

L.C., Ithaca Forest Preschool parent

What Parents are Saying...

“My daughter is now in 4th grade, and my sons are in 2nd Grade and Kindergarten. I can honestly say that I feel they entered Kindergarten completely prepared and that they had something extra to bring to the classroom, an experience beyond what one would expect of a preschooler because they also brought with them unique life skills and stories from their time in the forest.”

G. K., Ithaca Forest Preschool parent

Ithaca forest Preschool

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Forest Preschool?

A Forest Preschool is just that, a school in the forest! 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. and we are on the cutting-edge of nature-based early childhood education! Learn more about forest preschools at naturalstart.org

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 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.

 

Why should I consider an outdoor school?

Our family spends lots of time outside. Why should I pay for this kind of experience?

It’s great that so many children in our area get time outside with their families. Attending a forest preschool has different benefits. For one thing, learning in nature alongside peers and non-parent adults teaches children that this is a normal way to spend time, not limited to their family. Secondly, the social aspect of what we do is so important. The outdoors is an amazing classroom for learning social and emotional skills, where group imaginative play abounds and teamwork is necessary if the group is to thrive. At Ithaca Forest Preschool in particular, we place a lot of emphasis on community and the group. Also, the staff to student ratio is high in order for us to manage risks appropriately; this means there are lots of opportunities for us to coach children in these important social-emotional skills. For more information please refer to the Ithaca Forest Preschool Parent Handbook.

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 might 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 our indoor time has been minimal. The decision to be outside or in 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, different strategies of animals in winter and beginning to recognize trees in winter.

What Does My Child Need to Bring?

Children should come dressed appropriately for the weather. We give very detailed information about dressing for the seasons in the Ithaca Forest Preschool Parent Handbook and we also offer a brochure that we created called Dressing Children for Outdoor Fun. At our orientation in August we will go over what to wear, as well. Additionally, children should come with plenty of water, a healthy lunch and snacks to keep them comfortable for an active day outside.

 

When Can I Drop Off and Pick Up My Child?

Supervision begins at 9 am and ends promptly at 12:00 pm. In case you have an emergency or will be late to pick up please contact our office at 607-272-2292.

 

What about ticks?

Ticks and tick-borne illness have become a fact of life in our area. The fact is, you can’t avoid ticks by not playing in the woods. They also like lawns and woodchip-covered areas. “We’ve gotten more ticks on playgrounds than we have at forest preschool,” one of our parents told us. If you have pets that come in from outside, they may bring ticks in with them. No one in our area can escape the need for regular (at least once a day) full-body tick checks whenever the temperature is above freezing. In our program, we visually scan each child for ticks once every morning and remove any non-attached ticks we find. With your permission, we would also remove an embedded tick if one were found during the program. More information about tick identification and tick checks, will be added to our Resources page soon.

Is public transportation or carpooling available?

4-H Acres is an on-demand TCAT stop, and there is a bus that can arrive right around 9 am. 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.

What are your COVID-19 Policies?

Ithaca Forest Preschool COVID-19 Policies and Protocol

Physical Distancing

By sending your child to Ithaca Forest Preschool, you attest that your household is abiding by social distancing guidelines until such time as it is no longer deemed necessary by the Tompkins County Health Department. All members of your household:

  1. Stay at least 6 feet apart from people outside of your household or close family.
  2. Avoid groups, crowded places, and mass gatherings.
  3. Wear a face mask when in public places shared by the public.

Let our office know of if anyone in your household may have been exposed to COVID-19.  Please contact us if you are unsure how these guidelines may apply in your specific situation.

Participant Illness Policy

Protecting the health of our families is our highest priority. We have modified our Participant illness policy in response to new Health Department guidelines. If your child has any of the following symptoms associated with COVID-19, not otherwise explained (for example, by allergies, a recent physical injury, etc), then they may be excluded from camp at the discretion of our Health Screener and/or Camp Director. If so, please contact your child’s pediatrician for guidance regarding testing and isolation.

  1. Fever of 100F or above
  2. Persistent Cough
  3. Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  4. Chills
  5. Repeated shaking with chills
  6. Muscle pain
  7. Headache
  8. Sore throat
  9. Newly acquired loss of taste or smell
  10. Skin rash

Your child may return to preschool after having the above symptoms if they have been:

  1. Symptom-free for 24 hours AND Fever-free for 72 hours with either:
    • Letter from pediatrician that it is safe for the child to return to camp (telehealth appointment is acceptable) OR
    • Negative COVID-19 test result; OR
    • 10 days have passed since onset of symptoms

Your child may NOT come to preschool if, in the last 14 days, anyone in household:

  1. Has been confirmed positive for COVID-19
  2. Has been tested for COVID-19 due to suspected exposure and is awaiting test results
  3. Was under quarantine for suspected exposure to COVID-19

Drop Off and Pick Up

Please monitor your child's health and take note of any symptoms of COVID-19 listed above.

Drop-off and pick up will be as contact-free as possible with caregivers staying in their cars with drive-up drop-off. We understand this is preschool and if you need to exit the car to assist your child, we ask you to please maintain 6 feet distance between other people and wear a mask.

Health Screening at Camp

All participants and staff will undergo daily health screenings. Screenings will include questions including and not limited to: symptoms of COVID-19, the occurrence of a positive test of COVID-19, and the proximity to people of suspected or positive cases of COVID-19. All answers to screenings will be reviewed and recorded daily by staff.

Daily Health Screening Questions

Caregivers will be asked these questions about their child. Any child who gets a YES to any of the questions, not otherwise explained (for example, by allergies, a recent physical injury, etc) will NOT be permitted at camp and will only be able to return per the COVID-19 Participant Illness Policy.

  • Have you or your child experienced any symptoms of COVID-19 in the last 14 days?
  • Have a fever of 100F or above now or in the preceding 72 hours?
  • Have a cough?
  • Have a sore throat?
  • Have any muscle aches?
  • Have any difficulty breathing/shortness of breath?
  • Have recent loss of taste or smell?
  1. Have you or your child taken any Tylenol, Ibuprofen or another NSAID in the last 24 hours for fever or unexplained muscle pain?
  2. Is your entire household in full compliance with the participant Illness Policy? Including, for the last 14 days:
  3. Has anyone in your household been tested positive for COVID-19 due to suspected exposure and is awaiting test results
  4. Is anyone in your family under quarantine for suspected exposure to COVID-19
  5. Has anyone in your household traveled outside of Tompkins County in the last 14 days? This answer is only used if contact tracing is later triggered. (If yes, where did they go and when?)

A staff member will take your child’s temperature with non-contact thermometer and record th temperature in Health Check Form

  1. Any person with a temperature above 100F will not be permitted at preschool
  2. Children will use hand sanitizer or handwashing stations immediately upon the grounds and throughout the preschool day.

Changes to the Preschool Day and what your child may experience

  1. Staff are required to wear face coverings at all times. Preschoolers are required to bring a face covering that they are able to put on by themselves. They will not be required to wear masks unless a staff person determines that social distancing can not be maintained for a specific time period. We may also ask children to wear masks until all members of their cohort understand the distancing ground rules.
  2. We will be in very small cohorts but whenever possible, we will maintain six feet distance from other individuals.
  3. Program supplies, bathrooms, and any touched surfaces will be sanitized regularly according to Health Department standards.
  4. Children will be asked to sanitize or wash their hands upon arrival and departure as well as other times throughout the day including after bathroom use, before and after eating and after touching program supplies.
  5. During lunch and snack, children will not be permitted to share food. During meal times, children will sit 6 feet apart.

When Physical Distancing is Not Possible

There are times when physical distancing will not be possible as children may need assistance with tasks such as opening lunch containers, changing their clothes or may need to be consoled using touch. There may also be moments where staff are required to apply first aid. In these circumstances, our staff will be wearing masks and will be following consistent hand washing/sanitizing protocols between each interaction.

COVID-19 Exposure Response

If we have a confirmed positive test of someone who has been at preschool in the last seven days, Ithaca Forest Preschool will follow our Communicative Disease Plan per the Center for Disease control with the following plan:

  1. Communicate immediately with Tompkins County Health Department, parents and members of our staff
  2. Discourage staff, participants and their families from gathering or socializing anywhere.
  3. Maintain confidentiality of the participant or staff member who tested positive as required by the  Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.
  4. Clean and disinfect all areas that could have been exposed to COVID-19.
  5. Prepare for guidance from Health Department which could entail:
  • Preschool closure for 24-48 hours. This initial short-term dismissal allows time for the local health officials to determine the COVID-19 situation impacting camp.
  • Quarantine of all children from the positive person’s cohort for at least 14 days
  • Preschool closure for 14 days
  • Preschool closure for a longer timeframe

Questions or Concerns?

We encourage you to reach out to us with your questions or concerns. We are doing our best to stay up to speed with new information as quickly as possible and will do our best to keep families up to date if changes occur.

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.

Is food provided?

No. Please supply 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. Suggestions for what to pack for lunch and snack are available in the Ithaca Forest Preschool Parent Handbook.

Who are the teachers and how are they trained?

The Ithaca Forest Preschool teachers (we call them mentors or instructors) are Primitive Pursuits instructors or in some cases highly qualified volunteers. You can read staff bios on our staff 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. We do not require teaching certification. 

Will this 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 Scholarships are Available?

We are committed to making our programs available to as many people as possible. Scholarships are available to all our programs, and the application is available in your online Account Portal after you register for a program.

About Scholarships

  • We strive to grant $150 in scholarship/trimester for preschoolers attending 2 days/week, and $250 in scholarship/trimester for preschoolers attending 4 days/week
  • 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.
  • Families must submit separate scholarship applications for each trimester

How to Apply:

  • Ithaca Forest Preschool:
    • Once the Registrar has contacted you to complete registration for Forest Preschool, log into your Account Portal and select the "Scholarships" tab. Complete the Scholarship Application. Our office will contact you via email when we have made a decision regarding your scholarship application.
  • All Other Programs (Growing Wild Spring and Summer Camps):
    • Log into your existing online Account Portal OR create an Account if you are new to our programs. Please use a computer and Firefox or Chrome (not Safari or Explorer, not on a tablet or smartphone).
    • Complete the online registration for your selected program(s). If you are unable to pay the deposit, select "I will pay by cash / check" in the Billing screen (Step 5/6). This will allow you to finish registration without entering payment information.
    • In your account, complete a separate Scholarship Application for each program. If you did not pay a deposit upon registration, email primitivepursuitscamp@gmail.com to request we place a HOLD on your registration. Please also email our office if you are applying for a scholarship for more than the maximum amount, with information about your circumstances.
    • Our office will contact you via email when we have made a decision regarding your scholarship application.

What is your cancellation and refund policy?

  • Deposits are non-refundable. If you cancel after a program payment in full due date (in 2020-2021 these dates are August 3rd, November 2nd, and February 1st), there are no refunds.
  • All deposits (even "non-refundable deposits") will be returned if you are unable to participate in a program for lack of a scholarship request being approved.

If you have questions about a program change or refund, please email primitivepursuitscamp@gmail.com with your full name, phone number, the participant's name, the full program name(s), and the program start date(s). 

What is your Federal Tax ID number?

Our Tax ID number for reporting childcare costs and donations is #16-6072897.

Ithaca forest Preschool

The Latest News and Stories from Our Blog

A Glimpse Into Forest Preschool

A Glimpse Into Forest Preschool

This is a reprint of a post from the Primitive Pursuits blog by Kirsten Wise from 2015 In September I had a chance to visit the Ithaca Forest Preschool just as the school year began. Spiders. Fires. And monsters making ice cream. Stranger things have happened at the...

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Winter Dressing Dos and Don’ts

Winter Dressing Dos and Don’ts

The arrival of winter weather has some people wondering...   "What can I do to make sure my child can be comfortable playing outside in the wind, cold, snow, and rain?" Primitive Pursuits has been taking youth out in winter for over a decade, and at Ithaca Forest...

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Book Review: Balanced and Barefoot

Book Review: Balanced and Barefoot

How have children's lives changed in the last 30 years? According to author and Occupational Therapist Angela Hanscom, children's lives today are much more structured and busier than when she--or I--was a kid. Kids now often have an extracurricular activity or sport...

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Office Location:
Cornell Cooperative Extension, 615 Willow Ave., Ithaca, NY 14850
607-272-2292 | email Us

Preschool Location: 
4-H Acres, 418 Lower Creek Rd., Ithaca, NY 14850


Ithaca Forest Preschool is a program of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County and is run by Primitive Pursuits, a 4-H Program.