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Elachee offers nature-based preschool camp
The center will transition to a full pre-K program in 2012
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Elachee Explorers Preschool Camp

Session 1: Aug. 9 – Sept. 27
Session 2: Oct. 4 – Nov. 22, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. once a week
Cost: $150 per session
More information: To register, click here

Elachee Nature Science Center is taking a step forward in its attempt to start a nature-based preschool in the fall of 2012.

Starting this August, Elachee will offer two eight-week Elachee Explorers Preschool Camp programs for children ages 4 and 5.

"It's a transition for us as we prepare for the nature-based preschool," Elachee education director Peter Gordon said. "We're going to see how it goes and use it as a jumping-off point."

The Explorers program will help students develop basic social and motor skills that would be taught in a preschool, but with heavy emphasis on teaching through the natural world.

"I'm following the pre-K standards — numbers, letters, shapes, all your fundamentals," said Angela Belanger, the Elachee naturalist who will be teaching the Explorers program.

Topics Belanger wants to cover with the kids include animal movement, sounds in the woods and senses.

"One of the programs is ‘Five Frogs on a Log.' We'll go out in the woods and count things and talk a little about frogs," she said. "It's going to be outdoors with everything from the stars in the sky to the things in the dirt."

Belanger has worked with Elachee's summer camps for young children in the past, and said the Explorers program will be more structured because it's geared around the state education standards.

The Elachee preschool, however, will have a more formal structure. Gordon said the preschool calendar will coincide with the regular school year. Elachee is pursuing state funding for the preschool, which Gordon said should be in place by the time the school opens its doors next fall.

Nature-based preschools are fairly unique. Gordon said he knew of about a dozen across the country but had not heard of any in the Southeast.

Earlier this year Elachee sent out an electronic survey to see what the reaction to such a program was. All of the feedback was positive — some parents even expressed interest in signing children up as soon as they could.

Any cost for the preschool will be used to cover activities, and Gordon said Elachee officials hadn't determined whether a members' discount will be available for either the preschool or the Explorers programs.

"I made sure that each session covers as many standards as I could," Belanger said. "Most students love animals and they love being outdoors. You can teach just as much as in a regular classroom and the kids really take to it."