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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.

Our story to date would not be complete without acknowledging 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-8th grade Forest School.

Our Future

As we enter into our second decade as a school, we reflect on our past and are designing for our future.

On the horizon includes:

  • a younger nature-based early preschool class to allow for a gentle, balanced introduction to Nature School,

  • the continuation of many enrichment opportunities for children not regularly enrolled at PONS, that includes an afterschool program, known as the 'Possum Pack, and seasonal immersive Forest School sessions.

  • continuing to develop our Lower and Middle School programs guided by NJ State Standards with a progressive approach to learning, enabling us to nurture middle schoolers through the challenges they experience developing into young adults while supporting their passions and discoveries. 

As our school continues to attract more families, this growth will remain guided by our number one priority ~ 

providing innovative, place-based education in small multiage classes focused on using the local community and environment as the lens for learning.

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