Wauhatchie School, which launched the first forest kindergarten in the state in 2015, is starting a satellite location at Ivy Academy in Soddy-Daisy this fall. For ages 3-6, the new forest preschool will build on the popular education trend when it opens in August 2019.
East Brainerd wildlife sanctuary Audubon Acres will also gain a satellite forest preschool in the fall.
All Wauhatchie School programs are currently accepting students.
Ivy is holding an open house for parents of prospective students Saturday, March 9 at 10 a.m.
An open house is also planned for Wauhatchie's main campus at Reflection Riding Nature Center and Arboretum, where the school already offers a half-day forest preschool, plus full-day forest kindergarten and first-grade classes, and a home-school program for ages 7-12. That event is Thursday, March 14 at 4 p.m.
Ansley Eichhorn, Ivy's director of admissions and environmental programming, sees the environmentally focused charter school for grades nine through 12 as natural fit for Wauhatchie's forest preschool program.
At Wauhatchie School, learning is based on the season and children's discoveries through exploratory play. There is no set curriculum.
"It nourishes them and helps them to develop skills to form connections with nature at a really young age," Eichhorn said of forest preschool, adding that Ivy receives calls daily from people who are interested in the program.
After retiring in 2013 as executive director of Reflection Riding, Wauhatchie School co-founder Jean Lomino started an outdoor-education consulting business, but as a teacher for nearly 50 years, she always had an interest in forest kindergarten, she said.
In 2015, she attended forest kindergarten teacher training at Cedarsong Nature School, one of the first forest kindergarten programs in the U.S. That same year, she and Wauhatchie School co-founder Diana Rowell launched their own forest kindergarten program.
While the program is too new to provide evidence of how well its students fare after transitioning to a traditional school setting, said Assistant Director Megan Chaney, research shows that in the early elementary years, forest school alums typically do as well academically or are slightly behind their peers who attended traditional schools. But by around the fourth-grade year, forest school alums typically begin to surpass their peers, which is believed to be a result of their early development of "soft" skills such as communication, problem solving, creativity, persistence and patience, she said.
Wauhatchie's approach to education incorporates early childhood learning philosophies including Waldorf, a nature-focused philosophy; and Reggio Emelia, inquiry-based learning related to the Montessori method. The ratio of students to teachers is 5:1 for 2- and 3-year-olds and 6:1 for 4- to 6-year-olds.
Lomino said the benefits of forest school include spending the day in the fresh air and open sky, which students do no matter the weather, though they're not permitted to play in the water if the temperature is below 40 F. She added that they are taught to dress appropriately, which helps students learn adaptability, as they're trusted to know their own body, she explained.
"Risk-taking is an important part of the forest kindergarten philosophy," said Lomino, as it helps children learn their place in the world.
Students also have more opportunity to exercise their eyes than their peers in traditional classroom settings. Studies have shown kids who spend hours each day looking at screens are more likely to become nearsighted, she said.
Applications for all locations are available online at wauhatchie.com. There is a $25 fee to apply. Children and their parents will be given a private tour prior to the final stage of enrollment to ensure the school is a proper fit, Lomino said.
Ivy Academy is at 8520 Dayton Pike in Soddy-Daisy and can be reached at 305-7494. Reflection Riding is at 400 Garden Road in Lookout Valley.
Contact Wauhatchie School at 242-3099 or visit wauhatchie.com.
Email Emily Crisman at email@example.com.