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Time in the forest sparks joy, curiosity, cooperation and wonder!

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About Us

The mission of South Mountain Nature School is to provide children the resources to play and learn in the South Mountain Reservation with other children while experiencing the wonders and beauty of the natural world.

SMNS follows The Cedarsong Way, which is an early childhood education model that offers a nature immersion curriculum. Nature immersion is defined as “free time in nature, resulting in an intimate, deep and personal connection to the natural world.” Our classes promote social and emotional development, instill confidence and foster independence.

Mary Clair Sonneman

Founder and lead teacher, Mary Clair Sonneman, is a former high school English teacher with a background and keen interest in progressive education. She has a passion for the natural world and loves to play outside.

Mary Clair attended a Forest Kindergarten teaching training program at Cedarsong Nature School on Vashon Island in Washington in July 2016, earning her Cedarsong Forest Kindergarten Teacher Certification. Read more about this wonderful school here. She has a BA in English from Boston University and a teaching credential from San Francisco State University.

What We Offer

  • Forest Kindergarten (Preschool) for ages 3-6 – This drop off program has all of the benefits of a traditional preschool PLUS the natural science knowledge and more that comes with a program being in the forest!
  • Caregiver Forest School Classes for ages 2 – 5 – These classes run once a week for 90 minutes for 8 weeks each season: Fall, Winter & Spring.
  • Drop off After School Forest School for ages 5-8 – These classes are drop off for older children after school. They also run once a week for 90 minutes. There are Fall, Winter & Spring sessions.
  • Forest School Summer Camp for ages 4-8 – Our summer camp offers shelter building, nature exploration, hiking, cooperative games and water play in the Rahway River.

What We Do

Forest School classes take place in woodlands in all types of weather over an extended period of time so that children can develop a close connection with nature. During a SMNS class you will see children exploring the woods, running with butterfly nets, building forts, and digging in the dirt. Our students invent new games together, pick wildflowers, climb on fallen trees and much more. Time in the forest sparks joy, curiosity, cooperation and wonder!

SMNS provides students tools for free play such as buckets, shovels, magnifying lenses, butterfly nets, binoculars and musical instruments.

Our Activities

During our time in the forest any or all of the following activities are enjoyed:

  • climbing and balancing on fallen trees
  • digging in the dirt
  • creating nature-based art projects
  • recognizing patterns in nature
  • swinging from vines
  • identifying animals and plants
  • playing games
  • observing changes in the natural world around us
  • building shelters

An essential part of the SMNS mission is promoting and teaching our students environmental stewardship. When possible we use sustainable materials for our projects, and we will always leave the forest as we found it.

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