Frequently Asked Questions
How do you structure learning opportunities with an age range from ages 3-5?
We embrace mixed-age learning because it creates a sense of family among our classes. The children caretake and help one another in this non-competitive dynamic. Older children may instinctively help younger children navigate the trails or put on their gear, which sets a wonderful example of kindness, responsibility, and leadership.
Mixed-age settings also mean that there is less temptation for teachers to directly compare one child to another simply because of their age. Teachers understand the typical learning milestones for 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds, but considering the developmental peaks and valleys in early childhood, we focus on each individual's growth and progress throughout the year.
When we introduce activities with tools or processes involving multiple steps, we work one-on-one or in small groups to provide support as needed.
If you’d like to learn more about the downside of homogenous age groupings in school, read Peter Gray’s book Free To Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life.
This resource discusses what teachers do to implement Developmentally Appropriate Practices (DAP): National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), Three Core Considerations of Developmentally Appropriate Practices (DAP).
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has many resources regarding developmental milestones.
What type of curriculum do you follow? Or is it one you’ve developed yourself?
We follow an emergent, nature-based curriculum. This means that each day, the children’s interests, skill development, and seasonal happenings form the basis of what the children will learn. New experiences unfold before our eyes (emerge) as we provide time and space for children to play outdoors. We document the children’s interests, which inform how we supplement our emergent curriculum with intentional activities and experiences.
For example, one winter day a child was particularly interested in vultures circling overhead. We offered binoculars and field guides to further his investigation, which led to lengthy observation and discussion about birds. During the next class, we compared the habits, flight, and diet of vultures as compared with songbirds and woodpeckers that we often see in the forest classroom. Because this child was working closely with a speech therapist, this was also an opportunity to practice bird sounds and calls, useful in his individual skill development in expressive language and motor planning. In this way, he demonstrated an interest in vultures, but we furthered his learning in a myriad of ways.
This is a great overview of child development by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC): What Do Children Learn In a High-Quality Preschool Program?
Maryland State Department of Education’s Division of Early Childhood Development applies these comprehensive guidelines to licensed preschool programs: Supporting Every Young Learner: Maryland’s Guide to Early Childhood Pedagogy Birth to Age 8.
Do the children carry everything they need in a small backpack each day? What exactly does the backpack include?
Children bring a small backpack with a reusable water bottle/canteen, a snack (which for some children is more like lunch!), and an unlined nature journal. They keep a change of clothes in our waterproof box in the forest classroom, as well as a camping mug for tea. If your child requires life-saving medication (such as an Epi-Pen), you would note that on the health form and teachers will securely carry it. You can find detailed information about supplies and gear in the Family Handbook.
How should I dress my child?
It is crucial that children dress appropriately for the weather, so be on the lookout for our Gear Guide when you register. This means dressing in layers so we can peel them off when we’re hot or layer them on if there is a chill. This also means knowing what to wear in cold and wet weather to ensure your child is comfortable, safe, and ready to explore. We provide a special document called Gear Up for Outdoor Exploration with specific recommendations.
This wonderful book explores the importance of outdoor learning for children in all weather. There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids by Linda Akeson McGurk.
We love the idea of foraging for leaves, flowers, berries, and seeds. But do you do any mushroom foraging?
We forage plentiful common plants such as spicebush, rubus spp. (raspberries), violets, dandelion, mints, wood sorrel, etc. We don't forage for mushrooms, but if we ever change our approach, we will communicate with parents long before collecting or eating mushrooms.
Are there hazards or dangers we should be aware of?
Yes, as with any form of active learning there are hazards that teachers must be mindful of and plan for. We vigilantly monitor and mitigate hazards daily. At the same time, we encourage children to take supported risks in their play and exploration.
It is important to note the difference between a hazard (immanent danger) and a risk (which can have developmental benefits). Please see the Risk-Benefit Assessment section of our website for information about our thoughtful approach to risk management. We also keep a class Hazards and Benefits of Outdoor Learning binder for parents and teachers, as well as a daily site assessment log to further document how we moderate potential hazards.
What is 'intergenerational learning'?
When learning involves multiple generations - like grandparent to parent to grandchild - it is intergenerational. The elders in every society are the keepers of the past and anchors that help us navigate the future. We appreciate elders for their sage perspectives and want to help children cultivate respect and appreciation for all the elders in our midst.
Notchcliff offers special opportunities for Glen Meadows residents to experience nature with us. We enjoy spending time with our "grand friends" in assisted living who have limited access to the outdoors.