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'Nature-Based' Preschool to Open on LES With Outdoor Forest Classroom

By Lisha Arino | March 11, 2015 8:48am
 A new preschool that features 3,500 square feet of outdoor classrooms will open in the fall of 2015.
New 'Nature-Based Urban Preschool' Opening in the LES
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LOWER EAST SIDE — Students of a new “nature-based urban preschool” will soon be spending plenty of time outdoors climbing on rocks, making mud pies and scoping out insects.

Elements Preschool, which will open later this year at 99 Suffolk St., will make its 3,500-square-foot backyard — complete with climbing boulders, an outdoor classroom and a dirt hill — a major part of its curriculum, founder Shilpa Sehti said.

“It’s exciting, it’s new. It’s unique, especially in the city,” she said.

The outdoor space — designed by Central Landscape Architecture — includes a “Woodland Walk,” designed to mimic a deciduous tree forest. The area includes trees that lose their leaves in the fall, as well as woodland plants and logs that can be used for seating or turned over so that kids can check out the creatures that live underneath.

Other highlights of the space include a garden — where kids will grow herbs, vegetables and fruit, Sehti said — and an outdoor classroom the school has dubbed the “council ring,” which will have 15 to 18 seats.

While the school’s curriculum will follow the state’s Common Core guidelines, the preschool will incorporate as much nature as possible into the day’s lessons, Sehti said.

Element Preschool’s philosophy is inspired by the forest school model, which believes that childhood exposure to nature “helps them to learn in a self-motivated manner, and enables them to prosper as creative and innovative initiators, responsible explorers, and spirited, collaborative thinkers,” according its website.

“It’s like coming to a new classroom everyday because nature is going to present something new,” Sehti said.

However, not all learning will take place outdoors. About half of the school day will take place in the school’s four indoor classrooms, although activities will likely be related to things they saw or experienced outside, she said. Sehti said yoga, music and art will also be part of the indoor classes.

The pricey preschool — tuition costs $17,800 a year, Sehti said — will have room for about 60 children between the ages of 2 and 4 years old. The school day runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., but Sehti said extended days that end at 6 p.m. will also be available for an additional $4,200 per year.

Elements Preschool is currently accepting applications for the school year as well as its eight-week summer session, which begins in July, according to the founder. Parents will be able to tour the school towards the end of April, she added.

The summer session costs $420 a week for days that start at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3 p.m. and $520 for days that end at 5 p.m., she said.

Applications are available on the Elements Preschool website.