Children spend a significant portion of their day outdoors.
Play is the work of childhood and nothing inspires play more than nature! Children spend a significant amount of time outdoors (in all weather) in our large, nature-friendly outdoor classroom and playscape, which includes seating made of tree stumps, a digging and construction area, and a garden where children grow berries, herbs, and vegetables. Students paint with watercolors in the rain, build chipmunk houses out of found materials, and develop literacy and numeracy through exploration and play. Friends – like childhood – is magic! But it is also intentional. Our teachers receive regular professional development on early childhood and Quaker education, and how to support learning indoors, outdoors, through play, and in a community!
What does it mean to be a Friend?
“Friends” schools are based on the beliefs and testimonies of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers. Friends Neighborhood Nature School was founded and is sponsored by the Ridgewood Friends Meeting and is a member of the Friends Council on Education. Simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship (SPICES) are core Quaker testimonies you will find reflected in the school’s warm, nurturing environment and the daily rituals of community meetings, exploring our outdoor classroom, tending to a garden, communal meals, reading together, and caring for one another. Our play-based curriculum focuses on letting each child’s light shine and fostering a life-long love of learning. The classroom is mixed-aged, meaning all children ages 2½ - 6 years old interact, and opportunities for small group experience occur organically and strategically throughout the day. Children are seen for the unique, whole human beings that they are, and encouraged to see the light within themselves and others. Our program has not changed very much since its inception in 1959, as research regarding what constitutes a high-quality early childhood education supports the values and pedagogies for which Friends has always been known.
Learning is student centered and play-based.
Young children learn best through play, not screens, worksheets, or homework. We know how hard it can be to shut out the noise of the world, which is why our student-centered learning environment emphasizes simplicity and providing children the individual attention they need and deserve. At Friends, our early childhood educators prepare children for success in kindergarten and life by nurturing curiosity, encouraging creativity, and emphasizing empathy. [Curiosity is the seed of success.] Loose parts play and prompts (get rid of prompts) thoughtful provocations provide opportunities for children to lead and to assume an active role in their education. At Friends, children love to learn, and learn to love.
The classroom is mixed-aged.
Children ages 2½ - 6 years old interact in unique groupings throughout the day. These experiences foster community, promote collaboration, and provide for authentic social and emotional learning. Young children learn from older role models how to be leaders, while older children practice patience and empathy while guiding and encouraging their younger peers. Rather than competing, children learn to appreciate their contribution to a community of learners. Occasionally, siblings are even able to attend school together! Every interaction, conflict and challenge is treated as an opportunity for learning, and faculty coach children to resolve difficulties productively.
Low student-to-teacher ratio supports learning.
At Friends, there are never more than 6 children for every 1 adult. For children to learn through art-making, storytelling, and STEM activities, faculty must be available and present to coach, question, and guide. With so many faculty present at all times, teachers are able to get to know and support each student, and provide instruction tailored to each child’s individual strengths and needs. They are available to coach children through problem-solving, inquiry, self-reflection, and friendship. At Friends, every child is known, seen, and a valued member of the community.
Families are partners.
Friends is a community of families and educators, with children at the center. Community is incredibly important during the early childhood years, as parents are often just developing their knowledge and identities as parents and building friendships with other families that will last a lifetime. Parents, grandparents, caregivers, grandfriends — anyone who is helping you raise your family — is welcomed as a part of our community too. And Friends is committed to providing not just an academic, social, and emotional foundation for children, it supports parents with building a foundation upon which they will raise their families. A regular community newsletter connects families with the learning and special experiences occurring within the school, and caregivers participate in occasional check-ins as well as twice-annual Family-Teacher Conferences. Caregivers are invited to come in and read a book or teach a lesson, volunteer in the school, or support behind the scenes. During your time at Friends, you will learn valuable lessons in parenting, make some of your closest friends, and create memories to last a lifetime.