I had the privilege of welcoming new and returning parents and their children to our preschool orientation today, and the enthusiasm on the part of both the teachers and children was clearly evident. So many of the parents I spoke with expressed a passion for the nature preschool model and the experience it provides their children. In addition to being the ED here at Irvine, I am also a former preschool parent and can empathize with people’s passion for this program. With the start of our fifth year underway officially, allow me to provide some background before I share with you what’s new and in store for our future.
Adopted and adapted from the European model of nature preschools and forest kindergartens and in concert with the work of noted educator David Sobel, our previous Executive Director, Peggy O’Neill, and our current preschool director, Monica Wiedel-Lubinski, founded The Nature Preschool. Each year since its founding our enrollment has grown and the nature preschool movement has gained momentum locally and nationally. As a result, we initiated the Nature Preschool Conference here at Irvine and hosted our second annual event just this spring.
In just two years the conference has grown and is now starting to attract both national and international attention. We envision The Nature Preschool and The Nature Preschool Conference working hand in hand to provide not only a wonderful experience for the children but also a context in which to explore and exchange new ideas with the broader nature preschool community.
Allow me to give you some examples which illustrate the interest in this movement and Irvine’s position in the community as a leader in the field:
- Our preschool director was recently contacted and visited by Prof. Jiyoun Shin from Sahmyook University in Seoul, South Korea. Prof. Shin is traveling the world visiting nature preschool and forest kindergartens gathering information which will help her to develop both the program for 200 preschoolers she oversees in Seoul and the larger and rapidly growing movement in Korea in general. She plans on attending our 3rd annual conference in June with several of her faculty members.
- Just this week a Fulbright Scholar Mamata Pandya from the Centre for Environmental Education at the Nehru Foundation for Development in India was visiting The Nature Preschool at Irvine to learn about environmental education and how to start a nature preschool movement in her home nation.
- The Third Annual Nature Preschool Conference is already shaping up to attract diverse and wide-ranging participants, and we are working diligently identifying and booking the best slate of presenters. We look forward to a providing an even more robust experience with added options and activities.
- Numerous Irvine Nature Center staff members are scheduled to present at the Maryland Association of Outdoor and Environmental Education Annual Conference in February in Ocean City, Maryland and at the North American Association of Environmental Education Conference next month right here in Baltimore.
This year at The Nature Preschool we are looking forward to some wonderful, new opportunities for both parents and children in addition to some of our tried and true favorites. Specifically, we are thrilled to partner with Kayam Farm at the Pearlstone Center for a seasonal farming series which will expose our preschoolers and interested parents to the natural cycles of domestic animals and crops. The Nature Preschool is also partnering with the Maryland Family Network to host a free Natural Parenting Series. We will host evening campfires in the fall and spring along with our always popular pancake brunch featuring our homemade maple syrup from sap gathered and boiled down by the preschool. This fall the student will release Monarch butterflies they have raised as part of a new initiative here at the Center (we are planning to open a butterfly enclosure this coming spring), and finally we look forward to another release of baby horseshoe crabs at Sandy Point State Park in May followed by the fifth annual Flower Ceremony to conclude the year in June.
If you are interest in either The Nature Preschool or the Nature Preschool Conference, please do not hesitate to take a look at our website https://www.explorenature.org or get directly in touch with us via email:
Brooks Paternotte, Executive Director
Monica Wiedel-Lubinski, Preschool Director