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New preschool to open in Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve

Elachee Nature Science Center accepting registration

POSTED: March 18, 2013 1:05 a.m.

Students at the Elachee Nature Science Center's prekindergarten program paint butterflies as they learn about the many different varieties of the insect.

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Imagine going to a preschool where getting dirty is OK, exploring the woods is an adventure, and bugs are not to be squashed.

The Elachee Nature Science Center is now accepting registration for the new Nature Preschool, which will open Aug. 12 in the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve.

The preschool is for 3- to 5-year olds. Students will receive a snack daily.

The 1,300-square-foot indoor preschool room and the Nature Playscape are under construction.

“We hope to be able to have them completed by the Earth Day celebration on April 20,” said Peter Gordon, director of education.

With both the new room and play area, Elachee wants to foster curiosity and the love of nature, said Rhonda Bailey, Nature Preschool director.

“We always should remember that we (preschoolers) are in their (nature’s) house,” said Bailey.

Two classes will be offered: 8:45 to 11:45 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and 8:45 to 11:45 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

“The curriculum will immerse children into our nature-based program,” said Andrea Timpone, president and CEO of Elachee.

Each day will feature guided outdoor exploration, play and social interaction, language and dramatic arts, readiness activities and fine and gross
motor development.

“The new preschool rooms’ windows connect the indoors with the outdoors,” Timpone said.

Elements used in classroom play will enhance the concept even more with the inclusion of a wide variety of
natural components.

“Fifty percent of the preschoolers’ day will be outside,” said Bailey.

A complementary feature for the preschool will be the exclusive use of the
outdoor Nature Playscape during the preschool hours. The playground will provide a “specifically designed” area to work in harmony with its natural setting.

“We want to ignite that love of nature,” said Bailey.

Features of the Nature Playscape will include a ground slide, a boulder-bordered sand pit, a water pump log, a slate art easel and a little rowboat. Bailey said she needs to be upfront with parents: A change of clothes every day probably will be needed. Each child will be assigned a locker.

Access to the 1,500-acre Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve with trails and streams might also be an adventure behind every tree.

“We do hands-on and follow the children’s interests,” said Bailey.

There will be only 16 students with two teachers, said Bailey. She said it is half as many students as allowed by Georgia standards.

Bailey is the lead teacher as well as director of the preschool program. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in early childhood education and is a Georgia certified teacher, preschool to fifth grade. She has worked as a part-time naturalist at the center since August 2012.

Angela Belanger, the assistant teacher, has worked for Elachee’s environmental programs for six years, and has earned an associate’s degree in early childhood education.

The Elachee Nature Preschool is seeking a nature-based school accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. It would be the first in the Southeast.

Other preschool-age programs offered by the center include Elachee Explorers from 9:30 a.m. to noon Tuesday and Thursday; Mommy & Me 10 to 11:30 a.m. the second and fourth Wednesday of each month; Preschool Story Hour meets at 10:30 a.m. Monday during the winter months; Nature Play is on Saturday; and Camp Elachee Preschool Camp will run from 9 a.m. to noon daily during spring break in April and during the summer from June through August.

For more information on ages and specific dates, contact Elachee Nature Science Center at or call 770-535-1976.


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