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Our History
"Don't judge each day by the harvest that you reap, but by the seeds that you plant." 
                                                                                                       ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Painted Oak Nursery School opened its doors September 2012 as the first nature-based preschool in Mercer county, NJ. With a small, grassroots group of six families, the focus was on a nature-based curriculum with an emphasis on integrating art and sensory experiences. We immediately began a tradition of family potlucks, seasonal celebrations, and regular local field trips. As word spread quickly of our program, a dozen additional families joined our community over the course of the 2012-2013 school year. 

a stack of rocks in the forest

The next year, we established our project-based approach drawing inspiration from the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy. Our families met the teachers on the playground in the morning, which extended the time spent outdoors to match that of the time spent indoors.

For our third year of operation, our program welcomed nearly twenty new families to our learning community, we opened up a second classroom, and were the first preschool in New Jersey to offer a Forest School program three mornings a week and two afternoons for enrichment. 

To begin our fourth school year, Painted Oak moved its program to the Rambling Pines Day [summer] Camp campus in Hopewell Township. There, nearly 40 Painted Oakers enjoyed hiking and exploring 225 acres of preserved land everyday in the Sourland Mountains. In addition, our indoor space doubled in size allowing for bigger projects to take place for extended periods of time, and our faculty grew to include two more classroom teachers and an Arts Specialist.

Our fifth year found us breathing into our mission, opening up new trails to explore during Forest School, and expanding our curriculum to include Kindergarten. We adjusted our name to Painted Oak Nature School to embrace the expansion into grade school.

Along with Year 7 came the event that was the COVID-19 global pandemic. Schools everywhere were forced to close their doors in March, 2020 and families were expected to finish out their children's school year by assisting with online learning at home. As soon as we were permitted to reopen in June of that same year, Painted Oak was back to playing together in small groups among tall trees over the summer months. It quickly became clear that remote learning was not working for many families, and so, out of lemons, PONS made lemonade - we opened our 8th school year with children in every grade, Kindergarten through Sixth, thereby solidifying our place as New Jersey's only private PS-6th grade Forest School. As our oldest students continued to advance, we grew to offer a Middle School program, with advanced curricula and additional electives to interest our 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. 

At our 12th end-of-year ceremony, we said Farewell for Now to our 4th-8th grades. We are proud of the educational experience we have offered our oldest adventurers. We also have come to reflect that our extremely fast expansion led to splinters within our community. We will use this summer to realign our practices and programming with our mission. We couldn't be more excited as a staff to Restore our Roots! 

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