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Sprouts Farm and Forest Kindergarten, Millis, MA

  • 1.  Sprouts Farm and Forest Kindergarten, Millis, MA

    Posted 01-22-2020 07:03 AM
    Hello all. I am new to this forum but thought it was an incredible opportunity to ask for advice and a change to a particular type of early education choice.  I am the director of the first licensed forest kindergarten in Massachusetts. As this philosophy of education gains momentum in the US I am looking for continuity in licensing-first in my home state! My business partner and I have had many conversations with other educators who would like to open similar programs. I have been trying to work with the Massachusetts EEC but so far each time a forest kindergarten is going for licensure the MA EEC is reinventing the wheel and making different decisions that are compromising the integrity of what "forest kindergarten" actually means.

    Recently, a program that has existed for three years learned that they needed to be licensed (this too is a gray area, depending on hours of operation, are you operating with sessions?...we were in this same position 5 years ago) and the state EEC shut them down, displacing numerous children and families from continuity of care.  Our program remained open during the entire licensing process and so I am heartbroken for the families and the director. While I know every program will have their own unique tweeks, the foundation of forest kindergartens are the same and I believe as the first licensed forest kindergarten we should be used as the precedent for all others. I have written to the licensor who shut down my colleague's program, her supervisor and my licensor,  and I am going to reach out to my local MAEYC offering my support and expertise on the process of becoming a licensed forest kindergarten.

    I know the state of Washington has new regulations for forest kindergartens (which personally I think are too stringent) and I would like to work towards something similar. I have been talking to my licensor for 5 years about changes to our MA EEC regulations and have not gotten anywhere.  I think I need to go higher up in the establishment.

    Do you think I should contact my local state representative and have her broker a meeting with the Massachusetts EEC commissioner? I am trying to determine first steps in helping to get my colleague back up and running as well as to break down walls (ha...from a nature-immersive educator, where there are no walls) to help forest kindergartens become a better understood and equitably treated early education choice in Massachusetts and across the country.  Any advice/thoughts...and I want to get enough forest kindergartens together so we can change the insurance world (another discussion).


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    Christine Heer. M.Ed., Director Sprouts Farm and Forest Kindergarten (Millis, MA)
    Dover MA
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  • 2.  RE: Sprouts Farm and Forest Kindergarten, Millis, MA

    Posted 01-23-2020 04:48 PM
    Congratulations! I have a forest preschool in Oregon, where we cannot be licensed but can operate as "license exempt" as long as children are between the ages of 3-5 and are not under our care for more than 4 hours. Obviously, there are drawbacks to this model because it leaves out families who need a longer day of care. I have been working with a foundation here in Oregon (which has ties to state legislature) to try to get a pilot program going here modeled after the one in our neighboring state of Washington. The idea is to get it passed as a rider on a separate education bill. So, yes, finding a state legislator sympathetic to the cause would be helpful. Legislators rarely write their own bills, though, so hooking up with a foundation that can help you lobby would be good as well. Check out Rewild, Children's Nature Network, etc. I did talk with someone in our state AEYC affiliate who said they can be a resource as well. One thing I learned is that nature/forest schools in Washington state had their own strong network going before they approached the state (power in numbers) as a group. We are currently trying to build up such a group in Oregon -- so far, we just have a Facebook page. You may want to start by building such a networking group in Massachusetts.

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    Nicole Fravel
    Owner
    wildwood nature school
    Portland OR
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  • 3.  RE: Sprouts Farm and Forest Kindergarten, Millis, MA

    Posted 01-24-2020 06:32 AM
    FYI
    John

    Sent from my iPad




  • 4.  RE: Sprouts Farm and Forest Kindergarten, Millis, MA

    Posted 01-25-2020 10:47 AM
    Thank you for posting this topic. I am very interested in this and following the conversation. Can anyone link me to where the licensing regulations are posted for the state of Washington? I am just forming my business and trying to decide whether to go for the all outdoor or whether to make it an indoor-outdoor and it would be useful to look at the licensing rules.
    For those that have licensed outdoor programs, what do you use for insurance?
    thank you,
    Tracy

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    Tracy Harrison
    Nanny
    Seattle WA
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  • 5.  RE: Sprouts Farm and Forest Kindergarten, Millis, MA

    Posted 01-25-2020 09:30 PM
    The Washington State program is currently in the middle of a 4 year pilot. I do not know if they are accepting applications from new programs. Here is a link https://www.dcyf.wa.gov/about/government-community/advisory/opp You bring up a good point about insurance, which can be difficult if you aren't licensed. Since insurance is usually state specific, you would have better luck going through WA's childcare office or contacting an outdoor school in that state.

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    Nicole Fravel
    Owner
    wildwood nature school
    Portland OR
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  • 6.  RE: Sprouts Farm and Forest Kindergarten, Millis, MA

    Posted 01-26-2020 12:35 PM
    WANPA is a great group to reach out to in Washington and they should have the latest information on the licensing project- https://www.wanpa.org/.

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    Sheila Williams Ridge
    Director
    U of MN Lab School
    Roseville MN
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  • 7.  RE: Sprouts Farm and Forest Kindergarten, Millis, MA

    Posted 01-27-2020 02:42 PM
    Hi Tracy, We are located on 60+ acres of farm and forest and while we are a nature-immersive program we do have a yurt for indoor space. The New England winters can get quite bitter and we chose to have a little shelter. As for insurance, we were insured prior to being licensed and while it took a bit to find the right insurer, we did. I am so excited to hear that you are beginning to form your business in this genre. It is so important to have nature be a place that all children are able to experience. Best of luck.

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    Christine Heer
    Dover MA
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  • 8.  RE: Sprouts Farm and Forest Kindergarten, Millis, MA

    Posted 02-07-2020 02:50 PM
    Hi Christine and other outdoor educators,
    I'm curious what company you ended up using for your insurance and what type of policy is it?

    Best wishes for the policy work you are doing! I'm on a number of Facebook forums for nature educators and it seems like forest school folks in the UK have a much more unified system involving levels of forest school leader training and certification.

    Thank you,
    Tracy

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    Tracy Harrison
    Nanny
    Seattle WA
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  • 9.  RE: Sprouts Farm and Forest Kindergarten, Millis, MA

    Posted 02-07-2020 02:52 PM
    Oops, just saw the previous emails about the insurance question.  Thank you everyone!

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    Tracy Harrison
    Nanny
    Seattle WA
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  • 10.  RE: Sprouts Farm and Forest Kindergarten, Millis, MA

    Posted 01-27-2020 10:01 AM
    Hi Christine,

    I'm so glad to hear you're thinking about ways to move licensing forward in your state. As someone immersed in the nature-based education movement I strongly believe we need to ensure we are doing our work safely. (Then of course there is addressing pedagogical quality, but I'll save that for another thread.). For your question on who to talk with in terms of changing the rules there are a couple of different approaches. Yes, you could contact a legislator and have legislation established which mandates a state department to change the rules (like happened in Washington). Then there is also advocating by working with the licensing agency itself (EEC commissioner in your case). This was the approach used here in Michigan to establish rules for "natural play areas" as part of the licensing regulations.

    In your efforts it might be helpful to know about the Natural Start Alliance, a national network of nature-based educators (this includes a wide-range of models such as nature-based and forest preschools). As others have said, there is power in numbers. On the Natural Start site is a map of programs, so it might be useful to find others in your area to support your advocacy efforts. There are also regional associations that work with Natural Start. In the northeast this is the Inside-Outside Nature-based Educators of New England. Also, in your work it might also be helpful to know about the Natural Start Alliance's "Nature-based Preschool Professional Practice Guidebook" which suggests minimum standards for implementation of nature-based early childhood education.

    I hope this is helpful information for you and the others on this thread! I'm happy to help if you have any other questions. Good luck! This is important work for young children.

    Rachel

    PS--Someone asked about the Washington standards. Here is the link.

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    Rachel Larimore
    Founder
    Samara Early Learning, LLC
    Midland MI
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  • 11.  RE: Sprouts Farm and Forest Kindergarten, Millis, MA

    Posted 01-27-2020 02:38 PM
    Hi Rachel,
    Thank you for all of that information.  We are in our 5th year and I have been involved with outdoor learning with young children close to 30 years. We are plugged into Natural Start Alliance and I have the the practice guidebook! I also think I may have used some of your research in one of my post masters classes!! Definitely agree that there is strength in numbers. The difficulty is that right now I can not even get licensors and regional directors at Massachusetts EEC to talk to each other across regions.  There is no reason to reinvent the wheel!! Everyone here on this forum has been helpful and I have an email going out to our local  AEYC chapter as well as a meeting with my state representative tomorrow night (she can help broker a meeting with the EEC commissioner). Thank you again for all the links in one place. Best, Christine Heer

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    Christine Heer
    Dover MA
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  • 12.  RE: Sprouts Farm and Forest Kindergarten, Millis, MA

    Posted 02-07-2020 08:51 AM

    Hi Christine,
    Yes, the ambiguous regulations for nature and forest schools are frustrating in many states! I direct the Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools (ERAFANS.org), and we run into this all the time. As Sheila and Rachel pointed out, there are many states who are forming associations dedicated to the kind of advocacy your talking about, like WANPA.org and Inside-Outside of New England. ERAFANS also supports local networks along the east coast, some more active than others (ERAFANS.org/state-chapters). We are happy to provide ideas, advice, and resources to help! Please feel free to email me at director@erafans.org

    Warmly,



    ------------------------------
    Monica Wiedel-Lubinski
    Executive Director
    Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools
    Glen Arm MD
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  • 13.  RE: Sprouts Farm and Forest Kindergarten, Millis, MA

    Posted 02-08-2020 12:29 PM
    Hi Christine,

    I think I may have met you through one of the U Mass Boston Leadership institutes? Are you a PMC alum? I graduated in 2017. Nevertheless, I would recommend contacting Amy O'Leary if you have not done so already. She is very connected (both politically and otherwise) in Massachusetts for ECE. Also, as you probably know we have a new EEC commissioner and she is getting ready to travel around to the various regions in the state again (I believe beginning later this month). She did this in the fall too. She is seeking input (just as you have shared here) from ECE professionals. I went to a few in the fall and she really listens and wants to make a difference. I would recommend attending one and plea your case. EEC is also in the process of redoing the current EEC regs (which are from 2010). So a good time to reach out to her.

    Here is some info on Sam's upcoming "tour".--

    Last fall Samantha Aigner-Treworgy Commissioner of Early Education and Care had a community learning tour. The exact locations and times are not up yet, but the the tentative dates are February 24, 26, 27, and March 2, 2020 for the next community learning tour.  The commissioner's contact iinfo- 

    https://www.mass.gov/info-details/staff-directory-and-key-contacts-at-the-department-of-early-education-and-care-eec#commissioner,-board,-and-external-relations-

    Samantha.Aigner-Treworgy@mass.gov

    I would imagine you could go directly to the EEC website to get specifics on the Commissioner's upcoming tour and find out exact dates and times.

    Best of luck!

    Caroline Yoder-Blackman (I am currently working for EEC Strong Start as the Statewide Coaching Manager)

    Amy O'Leary's contact info-

    https://www.naeyc.org/about-us/people/governing-board/board/amy-oleary

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    Caroline Yoder
    Caroline Yoder
    Newburyport MA
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  • 14.  RE: Sprouts Farm and Forest Kindergarten, Millis, MA

    Posted 02-09-2020 07:05 AM
    Dear Caroline,

    Yes we have met and yes I am from the first PMC cohort!  Thank you for all of your suggestions and information. As luck would have it I was able to speak with the new commissioner at the MAAEYC director's conference a week ago and I am in the process of brokering a meeting with her through my state representative. The commissioner also expressed that she would like to come see Sprouts - so all is going in the direction I had hoped.  I plan to be a part of the planning and implementing of new regulations...in what way...I do not know exactly yet.  We are stronger together and I am excited to have a more cohesive, better informed MA EEC regulatory body that is open and understanding of all types of early education philosophies that offer innovative and unique learning opportunities to children across the state! Thanks again for reaching out.  Come visit us any time! Best, Christine

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    Christine Heer
    Dover MA
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