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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Pursuit of Happiness

Hooray for puddles!
Earlier in the month, with the expanse of Lake Champlain and the blue, green rise of Adirondack Mountains as a backdrop, I sat among educators at the In Bloom Conference: Promising Practices in Nature-based Early Childhood Education. We joined together as a community passionate about young children learning and playing outside in preschool and kindergarten settings. 

It was inspiring and validating to gather with others who collectively feel that playing and learning outside is not only good for young children but vitally important, especially as the average amount of time children in the US spend outdoors engaging in unstructured play is shrinking to a shocking level. 

Cooking in the Mud Kitchen!
Although outdoor styled preschools and kindergartens in Europe (often called Waldkindergartens) have been thriving and receiving government support since the 90’s, the concept is just now taking root in a broader fashion here in the US. Research in Europe illustrates the developmental, health, and academic benefits of outdoor play and learning in the early years. But to a child, learning and playing outdoors is just plain old fun!

During the keynote address at the In Bloom Conference, Antioch professor David Sobel asked a poignant question; What happened to the joy of learning in school? He said he’d like to see US schools incorporate the following into their mission: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I see children thriving outside - joyful and curious about the wonders in nature and using nature as a source of rich, imaginary play. Vermont is in bloom and so too is our Waldkindergarten styled Forest Preschool program at the North Branch Nature Center. Please enjoy taking a look at some of the many wondrous, curious, joyful moments at Forest Preschool this May. 

Registration for the fall session of Forest Preschool is now open. Give the gift of nature and spread the word!

Weaving on the loom at Deer Camp.

Investigating slugs and snails.

Chalk painting in the rain.

Oh yeah, mud!

Making ink by crushing grass and clay brick.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Nature Center Takes Flight

North Branch Nature Center Launches $1.5 Million
Capital Campaign

Among the great birding activities at this year’s annual BirdFest on May 30, was a special announcement and celebration of NBNC’s plans to raise $1.5 million to build a new education and visitor center and advance our mission to connect people of all ages with the natural world.

With $590,000 already raised during the quiet phase of the campaign over the past year, we are enthusiastic about the huge demand for the expansion and the strong desire on the part of Vermonters to make nature a bigger part of their lives.  

“A passion for wildlife and wild places is very much a part of the Vermont ethic,” said NBNC Executive Director Chip Darmstadt. “This expansion will help us bring our innovative blend of nature education and experience to many more people — here in central Vermont and across the state.”

After several years of planning and community input, we have developed a long-range plan to expand and enhance our educational programs.  Called “Our Future in Nature,” the expansion has three major components:

  • A new, inviting Community Nature Center will offer much-needed space for year-round children’s activities, a multi-purpose room capable of seating 75, and a teaching lab for naturalists and citizen scientists.
  • Eco-friendly landscaping and design will enhance the outdoor experiences for visitors who come to the preserve to walk, bike, ski, garden, learn, study or simply relax along our gentle bend in the North Branch of the Winooski River.
  • Renovations to the existing 1800s farmhouse will improve its energy efficiency and functionality.  Utilizing solar energy, the new Community Nature Center and farmhouse will become “net zero,” offsetting all fossil fuel use.
“In a world that more and more needs nature’s healing and restoration, North Branch Nature Center is a treasure for all Vermonters,” said Tom Slayton, author and Vermont Life magazine editor emeritus, who serves on NBNC’s Honorary Campaign Committee.

To learn more about the Our Future in Nature capital campaign, call (802) 229-6206, email Campaign@NorthBranchNatureCenter.org or stop by in person at 713 Elm Street in Montpelier.