Kids ask questions. LOTS of questions. They’re curious. It’s part of their nature. So imagine an entire preschool-aged education program based on just that – – questions and nature.

A student-centered, artistic program stemming from a love, understanding and appreciation of nature has been the two year dream of Monica Weidel-Lubinski and other educators at the Irvine Nature Center. The center offers a wealth of one day, six week, semester and event-based programming – -but felt a desire to do something on a more sustainable basis.

Introducing… The Nature Place at Irvine! Daily classes of nature-based curriculum for students ages 3-5.

Stemming from the Center’s popular Doodlebugs Nature and Art offering, this new pre-school aged program debuts this fall! It will run from September to May, and parents have the option of sending their child two to five days per week. Your child must be 3 years of age by September 1, 2010 and you can elect to enroll them in a morning or afternoon program. Personally, I love the idea that you can select when to send them – – if your child is a late sleeper and no napper, afternoon is perfect!

A preschooler’s typical day in the Irvine program? It starts with self-directed exploration centers. These might be felt board or a thumbing through a book. When everyone arrives, it’s time for Circle Time. During this group activity, Irvine teachers will set a framework for the days’ exploration. It might include songs or stories, group sharing, charting, participating in a puppet show, and more.

Did we mention the live animal encounter? Yep. They have animals. How (cool) would it be for your 4 year old to share circle time with an owl?

Then it’s time to go outside. Depending on the weather, your child could be exploring the great outdoor spaces at Irvine for 30 minutes to 2 hours. Be sure to dress them for the weather!

And they really will be exploring. They’ll have an opportunity to ask questions about an object and to test those theories. They’ll be sweep netting. (You don’t know what sweep netting is either, huh? It’s commonly incorrectly called a ‘butterfly net.’). They’ll be examining insects. Counting. Measuring. And asking all those kid-type questions.

Will it sink? Will it fly? Will it float? WHY?

Like any good scientist, the explorers will need time to reflect. What better way to reflect than through art? Each day provides students with materials and space to artistically reinforce the concepts they’ve learned. Language, literacy and writing activities are integrated into the classroom setting. Sessions are wrapped with snack and time to explore nature-based imagination stations. (What can you build with sticks or how do you dig for tree cookies?)

I love that the program is action-based. Rather than talking about things like environmental stewardship, students will engage daily in environmentally-friendly practices. Snacks will be served on washable plates and with laundered napkins. Unconsumed food will be composted. Everything that can be will be recycled.

Community building is a hallmark of this new program. Monica said that parents and siblings are integral part of what will ensure success. Families will be invited to attend special campfires (roasted marshmallows included!), art shows, holiday gift making events and more.

I know. The question that’s literally burning a hole in your pocket: how much does it cost?

Guess what? It’s really affordable. Tuition ranges from $200/month (2 days a week) to $450/month for 5 days a week. If you are electing to send your child to Lunch Bunch, you’ll pay an additional $25 per number of days a week per month. So, an extra $50 if your child attends twice a week. Both morning and afternoon students can attend Lunch Bunch!

So if you’re looking for a unique preschool-aged program, consider The Nature Place at Irvine. Kindergarten preparedness activities, dirt, trails, life skills, animals, literacy, science and art all wrapped up into one fantastic learning experience!

Want to see the program in action? Attend the Open House on August 22nd or September 19th from 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM!

If your child isn’t quite three yet – – or is already in kindergarten – – there are still a wealth of activities you can take advantage of at Irvine. Just check out their daily calendar of events! Note to foodies: their Thursday Farmers Market is 100% organic and showcases cooking demos!

(cool) progeny is thrilled to announce that Monica will be writing a monthly nature-themed post for us. Stay tuned for her first article, Exploring Nature with Your Infant, on Monday!