Ithaca forest preschool

About Us

Our caring and skilled mentors help guide our students towards creating a life-long love of learning and the Earth through encouraging curiosity, asking questions and exploration.

Founding Director

Jed Jordan

Aspiring tracker, devoted farmer and fearless wrangler of details.

Jed has been an Environmental Educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County for over 16 years and co-founded the Primitive Pursuits program along with Tim Drake and Dave Hall. Jed is also an adjunct lecturer at Ithaca College in the Environmental Studies & Sciences Dept. where he has helped develop and teach an Environmental Sentinels course for the last nine years.

Jed lives in Danby NY, with his wife and two youngest children. He and his wife own and operate a small u-pick berry farm, Rogue Creek Farm, where he also raises honeybees and nut trees, among other homesteading activities.

Program Coordinator 

Lyla White and Lead Instructor

Lyla grew up playing in the woods and exploring nature in rural Nova Scotia. She loved squishing her toes in the fresh mud, picking flowers, exploring in the forest, and trying not to make a sour puss face while eating crab apples and rhubarb. She has kept that love of nature throughout her life. As an adult she has lived in cities, small towns and National Parks. The thing that keeps her rooted and focused in life is keeping that connection to nature alive. She loves to go hiking, camping, and backpacking. She even took her daughter camping for the first time when she was only 10 weeks old.

Lyla has worked in many different jobs, as a freelance photographer, a nanny, a server in National Parks, and most recently as an educator at the Sciencenter. She has also studied herbalism and botany. She loves working in her garden and making tinctures and salves with other people. Getting to combine her curiosity and love of nature along with her love of children is one of her greatest joys.

Lyla lives in Brooktondale with her husband, daughter, and parents. Together they have a big vegetable, flower and medicinal herb garden. They also have a flock of chickens that they share their land with.

Lyla loves being part of the Forest Preschool team and looks forward to discovering and explore with the children for years to come.

Assistant Instructor

Nora Fox Littell

Nora grew up in Ithaca and still calls this place home. As a kid she spent most of her time exploring the Six Mile Creek watershed, building fairy houses and getting to know plants and animals. Being around other organisms fostered curiosity and creativity, and woods and creeks remained grounding places her whole life.

After working on an organic farm for a year, where she began to learn the ins and outs of growing fruits and vegetables, she is looking forward to returning to working with children. The questions and ideas that preschoolers come up with never fail to lift her spirits! Lately Nora has been diving into some exciting projects such as preserving vegetables and fruits, learning to speak Spanish, making drawings, fostering cats, and learning to bike. She is also continuing to work towards a better understanding of the history of colonization in this area, the unceded, ancestral territory of the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ people, and the current struggles facing her local community.

As an educator, Nora believes that she must take responsibility for modeling and fostering respect, open-mindedness, and honesty in the young people she works with. 

Assistant Instructor

Liz Jesch

Liz grew up in Ithaca, NY, and was first exposed to Primitive Pursuits through the Thursday Homeschool Program. Her relationship with the woods and nature was fostered through attending this program and later transitioning to a Summer Field Instructor. Through these experiences, Liz discovered a profound love for working with young children and helping to facilitate curiosity and enthusiasm in the natural world.

In addition to her love for the woods, Liz is passionate about public health and building healthy communities. She recently graduated from Ithaca College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health and Nutrition and just completed a service year with AmeriCorps. Liz is also currently working towards becoming certified as a Postpartum Doula.

Today, you can find Liz in the woods singing songs, creating fairy houses, exploring creeks, working with fiber art, and making rock paint. She hopes to bring these passions with her to Forest Preschool this year and learn, play, and laugh alongside some sweet preschoolers!

Assistant Instructor

Nora Murphy

Nora is thrilled to be able to be a wilderness instructor with Ithaca Forest Preschool and Primitive Pursuits! Her first foray into wilderness education was with Primitive Pursuits in the summer of 2019. She found that two things she loves in life clicked, and has been happy to continue learning and working throughout the school year and summer programming.

Nora has always felt the most “Nora” while spending time outside. Exploring the forest and creek near her house, camping with her girl scout troop and family, swimming in the summer, and biking to the lake were important parts of her life growing up. Nora also has a passion for education, which she pursued through studying music education at Ithaca College, teaching music lessons, working in childcare, and teaching kickboxing. She feels very blessed to be able to teach outside with kids, and see the vast range of naturalist skills and knowledge the others in Primitive Pursuits bring.

Co-Founder 

Melissa Blake

In 2013, along with Tim Drake and Jed Jordan, Melissa co-founded Ithaca Forest Preschool.  

Melissa completed a graduate program in Environmental Education at the Teton Science Schools in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and a two-year mentorship with master tracker Jon Young. In 2006 she founded a program called Growing Wild Nature Mentoring in the Catskills. 

Although Melissa has moved on to a new role, she continues to be a frequent collaborator and consultant with Ithaca Forest Preschool.

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

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

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 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.

 

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 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.

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 Young Children for Outdoor Fun. 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.

 

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.

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 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. 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) are Primitive Pursuits instructors or in some cases highly trained 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 but 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. To this end, we generate scholarships via our sliding-scale fees. 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.

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.

 

About Scholarships

  • 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)
  • 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.

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 primitivepursuitscamp@gmail.com to arrange deposit payment thru Registrar).
  • If you are applying for a scholarship for more than the maximum amount, please email our office at primitivepursuits@cornell.edu with information about your circumstances.

What is your cancellation and refund policy?

  • In order for any program change or refund request to be considered, it must be made in writing through the registrar, even if you have discussed this with another staff person, such as a field educator.
  • The effective date of all refund requests is the DATE OF THE EMAIL notifying the Registrar of your request.
  • Changes and refunds are NOT guaranteed and only the Registrar can process these changes.
  • 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.

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). 

More on our policies page.

Ithaca forest Preschool

The Latest News from Our Blog

FOREST PRESCHOOL TOUR July 16th 10AM-Noon

FOREST PRESCHOOL TOUR
July 16th 10AM-Noon

Parents and Children are Invited to Join Ithaca Preschool co-founder, Melissa Blake for a Tour of Our Very Special All-Outdoor Preschool Program. This is a great opportunity to ask questions and observe our summer camp program, which is very similar to our school year...

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Week 11 Nuthatches: Saying Goodbye

Week 11 Nuthatches: Saying Goodbye

Finishing up end of year projects, creek play, stories and games for the last week of Nuthatches for the spring semester!On Monday, the Nuthatches joined instructors Rey, Nora M and Nani to begin the final week of forest preschool. The Nuthatches took their time...

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Week 10 Nuthatches: Stories & Stone Drilling

Week 10 Nuthatches: Stories & Stone Drilling

It's hard to believe that we only have a couple days left of forest preschool! This past week, we spent our time in play, creek time, stories and stone drilling. In the photo above, we played a sneaky rendition of the game "keeper of the keys."The Nuthatches are truly...

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Week 9 Chickadees: Stories and Scavenger Hunts!

Week 9 Chickadees: Stories and Scavenger Hunts!

This week the Chickadees embarked on an epic scavenger hunt that led to some interesting items. Read more to find out what they were! MONDAY The party continued! Last week, the Chickadees earned their fourth star and split their party day into two -- who doesn't like...

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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.