The Environmental Nature Center’s new preschool opened its doors to the public this week, following recent city certification and a $1 million donation from a local couple.
The preschool welcomed students this week for the first time ever, as 72 children, ages 2 1/2 to 5, walked through the gates on Thursday, officials announced in a press release.
“Nature Preschools provide a safe, stimulating environment where children can reach their full potential,” ENC Nature Preschool Director Sue Bierlich said in the prepared statement. “Research has shown that outdoor play increases fitness levels and learning outside increases students’ ability to think both critically and creatively.”
The children started their day exploring the grounds of the nature play area, officials note in the message, following trails that ramble through three outdoor classrooms: The sequoia, Yosemite and Joshua tree play areas. They rode bright yellow tricycles and scooters along the bicycle path imprinted with animal tracks reflecting the names of their classrooms: Bears, tortoise and coyote. Kids played and learned in the art zone, the music zone, and the organic garden.
“They climbed on rocks, stumps and logs, sifted sand in the sand play area, and felt mud squish through their toes in the mud pit,” the announcement reads. “After lunch, they took their food scraps to the compost area and then got down to business being creative on the dramatic play stage.”
On Friday, ENC officials shared an announcement that the nature preschool building received its certificate of occupancy from the city of Newport Beach.
“Looking forward to students coming soon!” Friday’s message reads.
In a Sept. 3 press release, ENC officials announced that Lido Isle residents Frank and Joan Randall made the significant contribution to help open the school at 745 Dover Dr., which will educate up to 72 children daily through hands-on experiences with nature.
“The Randalls are visionaries, and we are grateful for their generous support of the ENC Nature Preschool,” ENC Executive Director Bo Glover said in a prepared statement. “The school will serve as a model nature preschool and provide a research forum on early childhood and environmental education. Their donation will be far-reaching.”
ENC Assistant Director Lori Whalen said last week that construction crews were putting the finishing touches on the new building.
The nonprofit hopes the new facility will earn a platinum-level designation by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system, the national standard for environmentally-sustainable design and construction.
According to a 2015 study published by the National Institute of Health, “access to active play in nature and outdoors — with its risks — is essential for healthy child development. We recommend increasing children’s opportunities for self-directed play outdoors in all settings.”
The ENC nature preschool and nature play area will be an “integral addition” to the community, officials commented in Friday’s message, and will make an essential impact on the next generation.