On an icy January day 10 years ago the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center Preschool came to life. Inspired by the Waldkindergarten model popular in Europe and coming shortly on the heels of Richard Louv’s groundbreaking 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, the Nature Center recognized a growing educational need.  And it was a need we were uniquely positioned to address.

Building on our already popular Early Childhood Education programs, a comprehensive preschool curriculum was developed and a deep commitment was made to providing preschoolers with consistent, extended and meaningful outdoor time.  DPNC quickly became a model nature preschool and we frequently share our program with other teachers looking to start nature-based preschool programs and researchers studying the benefits and best practices of nature based preschools.

While we are thrilled our reach extends beyond our little school, what is most important is the impact we have on the children and families who create our community. A community that is steadily growing!  Several of the children from our first brave class of 12 are now in high school!  Many of them still fondly remember their preschool experience at DPNC.  Some remember a song they sung, their favorite classroom animal or a connection with a special teacher.

But they all seem to remember…

… the sense of freedom.
… how wonderful it was to be outside every day.
… the sense of accomplishment they felt finally climbing to the top of “the big rock.”

Many of our preschool alumni have such warm feelings about their time with us that they like to return to feel that sense of freedom and magic again and we welcome them back at school often.

… or a particularly magical day spotting deer in the snow.

Clara and her big sister May, a preschool alumna, make cranberry bread during the holidays.
night hike
Preschool alumnus Roan, keeping a young preschool student safe during a recent night hike.
Preschool alumnus Lance reading to the class at circle time.

Preschool alumna, Greta (center) showing current students how to use the pop-beads.

Inaugural cohort alumna, Una (on left) playing Coyote Coyote What Time is it? (Spring 2006).
And 10 years later, reading to students: “My fingers hurt by the end of the day.  They all wanted to hold my hand!”

Former students share their new reading skills, help tie shoes, write words, create art and even show the preschoolers the secret to climbing the big rock!  The preschoolers love them and alumni have a wonderful sense of validation and comfort.  They have grown and have something new to offer to others, yet this special and safe place has not changed.  Nature is always there for them.  Nature is always there when you choose to come back.