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Outdoor Learning

What is the philosophy of the school?

     At Painted Oak, our Core Values compel us to build community, foster independence, and encourage creativity. We are dedicated to providing innovative, nature-centered, place-based education in small, multiage classes drawing inspiration from the Reggio Emilia approach to develop a lasting appreciation for the natural world. We are a progressive school committed to promoting a new, reformed model of education; one that allows students to tap into their interests and talents, to direct their own learning under the guidance of supportive adults, and to be excited to learn! 

How much time do the children spend outside? Where do they go to the bathroom?

     In our Nature Preschool (ages 2-4 years,) it is our goal to be outside 50 - 75% of their time during the 4-hours that we are all together in the morning; for our slightly older Forest preKinders (ages 3-5 years,) their time increases to 90% of their morning, and for our Kindergarteners - 3rd graders, they ebb and flow between their indoor classrooms and their outdoor classrooms depending on the nature of the lesson and the materials required. In cases of extreme weather such as lightning, hail or sleet, or temperatures that (with wind chill) dip below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, we remain inside until the weather shifts. In cases of high winds, we stay out of the forest and instead explore the open fields and meadows around our campus.

     In the event that a child needs to use the bathroom while we are away from the school building, we have private, portable toileting areas set up in all of our Outdoor Classrooms/Camps. Teachers are always on hand to assist, when needed, and extra clothes are packed for each child in case of accidents or a need to change prior to returning to school.  

Isn't climbing trees dangerous? What safety measures are taken?

     Oakers are allowed and encouraged to climb trees! To some, this may sound dangerous, but the benefits of risky nature play far outweigh the dangers. Research shows that risk helps children develop good judgement, persistence, courage, resiliency, and self-confidence, which are all core values of our school.

     When children are engaging in "risky play," the teachers adhere to the safety guideline, "One Teacher - One Risk." What this means for our students is that they may not engage in risky activity if a teacher is not present. In other words, if one teacher is supervising a child climbing a tree, another child may not run off to sled down a nearby hill without another teacher being present there, too. All of our teachers are trained in First Aid and CPR, and our Forest School Leader/Founder has additional training in administering first aid in a wilderness context.


What kind of gear will my child need?

     Proper clothing and footwear also plays a crucial role in ensuring children's safety while outdoors. Our gear list varies by season, but in general the children need: rain or snow pants, jackets, good muck boots, waterproof mittens and hats, and multiple insulating layers. A second set of clothing is always kept on hand in the child's backpack, in addition to a water bottle, which goes with them everywhere. The children arrive to school in their outdoor gear, since they are dropped off outside. Children who are not properly prepared for the day's weather, will be not be permitted to participate. Our motto is "there is no bad weather, only bad clothing!" 

What will my child be learning? Will my preschool child be ready for Kindergarten and beyond?

     We are excited and proud to be a part of the children and nature movement striving to bring early childhood education back to its roots. We promote open-ended child-initiated play for our younger students, and balance this with more focused experiential learning guided by teachers for our early kindergarteners and older students. Learning topics are typically rooted in nature and community building, are generated by the children's interests, and are supported by highly trained and educated teachers. Songs, stories, movement, art, and mindfulness activities are incorporated into everyday at Painted Oak.

     In regard to preparing the children for the next step in their educational journey, a nature-based curriculum routinely requires the children to observe, concentrate, explore, collect, sort, experiment, engineer, and construct. Our natural setting encourages the children to make up their own stories and play scenarios set in imaginative worlds utilizing elements from the forest floor as toys, tools, and creative decorations. They learn to appreciate the larger world around them and the role they play within it. Children at Painted Oak are encouraged to ask questions and discover the answers, to respect others' opinions and work cooperatively toward a common goal, and to develop a sense of self. All of these combine to provide an outstanding foundation for holistic growth and grade school readiness.  

What regulations are followed?

    Painted Oak Nature School is registered with the New Jersey Department of Education as a Nonpublic School. 

Who should I contact for more information?

Nicole Langdo, M. Ed.

Founding Head of School 

Ph: (609) 466-1010


174 Lambertville Hopewell Road

Hopewell, New Jersey  08525

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