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.

Our Philosophy

At Ithaca Forest Preschool, nature is our teacher. We are mentors and facilitators, helping young children grow and connect in our all-outdoor classroom in Ithaca, NY. In our nature immersion preschool, we nurture the seeds of connection to self, others, nature, and those who have come before us. We teach respect for the land and role model stewardship. We teach respect for others, for all cultures and we celebrate the diversity of our histories. We run, dig, slide, sing, climb, build, splash… and tell stories about it all. In this nurtured, natural space, children learn to feel belonging among friends and mindfulness within their able, growing bodies.


Advantages of a Forest Preschool 

  • Time in nature is important for children’s development.
  • Forest preschoolers are learning social-emotional skills while forming connections to the world around them and to familiar, caring adults.
  • Children are encouraged to be curious, ask questions and explore which helps cultivate a life-long love of learning.

Ithaca forest Preschool

Our School

Ithaca Forest Preschool is a space without walls where children are able to explore and learn from the natural world year-round. We cultivate a community that supports children’s self direction and imagination while also developing awareness and decision making skills. 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 mentors are skillfully weaving in peacemaking, community-building, and opportunities for self development every day. Children often lead the way as we follow their curiosity, and gently encourage them to try new things. They go home each day from this “invisible school” tired, muddy, and happy from their play time.

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

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.


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 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.

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.

How to Apply:

Create an online account and start the registration for your desired program. You will be prompted to apply for a scholarship during the registration process.

What is your cancellation and refund policy?

  • Deposits are non-refundable. If you cancel after a program payment due dates (in 2022-2023 these dates are August 1st, November 1st, 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 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.

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.

Ithaca forest Preschool

The Latest News and Stories from Our Blog

Cleaning up Trillium Camp and telling stories

Cleaning up Trillium Camp and telling stories

We started the Winter session by cleaning up Trillium camp and taking advantage of the mild weather to get ready for the rest of the season.The preschoolers worked very hard removing ashes, rebuilding the rock ring, and spreading out new sand around the fire pit.We...

read more
One Day at Forest Preschool

One Day at Forest Preschool

On November 30th we had a friend, Barbara, join us and she documented our day with photos. Here is what that day looked like: After opening circle we headed down to Trillium Camp, hung up our bags and immediately went over to the sandbox. We were looking to see if any...

read more
Climbing and jumping in leaves

Climbing and jumping in leaves

Many days this fall we have spent time on the climbing hill at the end of the day. It is always a favorite activity for the preschoolers. They work hard learning about balance and looking for good handholds. One day while collecting leaves for our shelter we took...

read more

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 nature immersion program for children ages 3-5. Our program is run in cooperation with Primitive Pursuits, a project of Cornell Cooperative Extension.