FOrest kindergarten / preschool Alternative PROGRAM

ages 3-6 

 Mary Clair Sonneman counts the rings on a tree trunk with a class of 2-5 year-olds. 

Mary Clair Sonneman counts the rings on a tree trunk with a class of 2-5 year-olds. 


Philosophy and Teaching Style
South Mountain Nature School's Forest Kindergarten preschool alternative program nurtures children's innate curiosity about the natural world. We believe that children learn best though play and that the natural world is the best playground, sparking joy, curiosity, cooperation and wonder. When children spend time outdoors they quickly engage their imaginations, move their bodies, ask questions, and make insightful observations. Research continues to support that when kids connect with nature they are happier and healthier. 
All of SMNS's classes follow The Cedarsong Way, a forest kindergarten philosophy created by the esteemed Erin Kenny of Cedarsong Nature School near Seattle, WA. Cedarsong was the first forest kindergarten in the US. The Cedarsong Way honors the whole child and empowers them to be respectful of themselves and others while cultivating a deep love for the natural world. SNMS is proud that both of the teachers of our Forest Kindergarten program hold Cedarsong Forest Kindergarten Teacher Certificates as well as NJ state teaching credentials. 

Several key features distinguish our early childhood education program:

  • Total commitment to all outdoor, all the time nature immersion. Nature Immersion is defined by Erin Kenny at Cedarsong Nature School as “unstructured free time in nature resulting in an intimate, deep and personal connection to the natural world

  • Interest-led, child-driven flow learning

  • Reggio Emilia-inspired Emergent Curriculum

  • Place-based Education

  • Inquiry-based Teaching Style

  • Authentic Play

  • Small class size, 1:4 teacher to child ratio

  • Exposure to Moderate Risk

Classes meet in all weather in the South Mountain Reservation in Essex County, NJ. We keep a small student to teacher ratio of 4:1 to ensure all children are safe and supported. In the case of extreme weather such as high winds and lighting we will take trips to the Public Library. 

Class Details

The year-long class meets Monday through Friday from 9 am -12 pm with an option to extend to 1 pm for picnic lunch time. Families may choose to enroll 1 day or more per week. Our program is 100% committed to being outside in all weather. Rain drops, flurries, sunshine and fog all make for great fun. Full body rain suits included with tuition. 

2017 School Year Tuition 

One day per week:  $1900        

Two days per week: $3800

Three days per week: $5700

Four days per week: $7600

Five days per week: $9,500

Extend until 1 pm for picnic lunch hour: $15 per day         


Our 2017-2018 South Mountain Nature School Forest Kindergarten Team includes School Director Mary Clair Sonneman (BA, NJ Teaching Certificate, Cedarsong Certificate), Principal Teacher Christy Zolty (BFA, Cedarsong Certificate, MS in ECE) and Substitute Teacher Deborah Tejaga. Detailed information about our teachers’ qualifications can be viewed on our website (update coming soon). All South Mountain Nature School teachers are current in their First Aid and CPR certification.

Enrollment Application

After you submit your enrollment application, you will be contacted to arrange a visit to the school in South Mountain Reservation. If accepted into the program, then you will be asked to fill out and and sign an Enrollment Contract. At that time, a non-refundable Registration fee equal to one month's tuition is required to reserve a place in the class and will be applied to your last month's tuition. A 5% discount will be given if tuition is paid in full.