Member Spotlight

Queens Botanical Garden Forest Nursery

Rebecca Wolf, Director

We met Rebecca at the Nature-Based Preschool National Conference this summer, when she was busy soaking up as much knowledge as she could before launching her own nature-based preschool program at the Queens Botanical Garden this fall. We wanted to check in with her about how her new program is coming along. 

What makes your program special?

Queens Botanical Garden is located in one of the most racially diverse counties in the United States—Queens, NY—and our program celebrates this diversity through stories shared and foods created together. 
Our program has a unique appeal because it’s part of the larger Botanical Garden. Children and families can enjoy the Garden both as part of the Forest Nursery program, as well as on their own. Parents are welcome to stay in the garden during the times of the program, allowing them to also connect to nature in their own ways while their children explore separately in our program. 

What is a day like in your program?

Our day is 3 hours long, twice a week. We are hoping to expand to four days per week in Spring 2017, allowing more children to join. Parents and guardians drop off their children in a designated part of our arboretum, a section of the garden that includes Quince trees, holly bushes, some small herbaceous plants, and lots of leaf litter! 
The children begin their day with exploration—seeing what new sticks have fallen, looking at leaf color, poking at new mushrooms that have emerged since their last visit and handling roly polys—then head over to our tree stump and tent area for communal snack making.
After snack, there is storytime under our tent leading right into a second exploration time. Typically they explore a new area or focus on something specific and seasonal. Among other adventures, they have built stick and mud huts, made homes in the leaf litter for a gnome family, and rolled down the grass hill knolls. The last section of the day is freeform or guided creative art time.

Tell us about your natural area.

The entire Garden is 39 acres and we have access to roam all of it! We base the program from a small forested zone, located close to the education building, with rows of trees, shrubs, and lots of organic matter. Right next to it is an open grassy area with some rocks, so the children can experience quite diverse landscapes without walking too far. We also have access to vegetable gardens, a proper woodland, a rose garden, an herb garden, and many other areas where the children can explore nature. 

What were your challenges and ways you overcame them before your opening?

The budget was a concern for us. We wanted to be able to pay our two teachers and not charge too much for the program. This semester we were thrilled to register 6 children, but that revenue was half of what we expected. We had to cut down the number of hours the teachers could work as well as our supply budget. As the director of the program, I took on much of the logistical planning, as we couldn’t give the teachers more hours.
Another concern was if parents would understand what we are offering. We love the idea of this program, but it is not as common as a typical nursery school. Parents need to know that children will be outdoors and we don’t have a written curriculum like a typical school. Once people came to our site and saw what we were doing, they were sold, but getting them in the door proved to be tough. We hope to start marketing earlier for future programming.

Was the Nature-Based Preschool National Conference in St Paul helpful to you?

The conference was incredibly helpful. In particular, the networking opportunities were wonderful--I met some incredibly experienced educators and administrators who have been doing their work for decades, as well as some who were fairly new to the field and just opened centers themselves. They told me details about their facilities, everything from how to structure a day to where children go to the bathroom to parent involvement. I was able to take that information back to my team, make a plan, and put it out there for parents to register. I would not have had that confidence without the backing of the Nature-Based Preschool Conference.