Felix Neck preschool is ‘an antidote to screens’

Fern and Feather preschool is centered around kids in nature.

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Felix Neck campers outside the barn that will host the preschool. —Stacey Rupolo

Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary is gearing up for its new preschool program that will put kids back in touch with nature and provide an “antidote to screens,” according to sanctuary director Suzan Bellincampi.

The nature preschool has been in the works for years, but Bellincampi said she is excited that it finally has a planned start date. The preschool will celebrate its opening day on Sept. 3, 2019.

The new program will incorporate a number of different methods to teach kids about nature, and, in particular, the nature to be found here on Martha’s Vineyard.

Pending certification by the Department of Early Education and Care, the preschool will be able to run full-time and host a number of all-day programs that teach kids about the outdoors.

The Mass Audubon Society has four other preschools across the state that teach kids about nature and the environment, but the school on the Vineyard promises a new way for kids to learn and develop.

“This is a brand-new way for people to view the world,” Bellincampi said.

Bellincampi hopes the new preschool, with Ryan Ofsthun as the school’s lead director and lead teacher Christina Raichle at the helm, will be a way for kids to be more involved and active in nature. By interacting with the natural world and learning about it, Bellincampi said, she hopes kids will want to protect it. “Being centered around nature and gaining comfort in the outdoors; that is the impetus for this class,” Bellincampi said. “These are things that really matter, but are being focused on less and less.”

With pollution, habitat degradation, destruction of natural resources, and climate change all being imminent threats, Bellincampi said it is important for people to respect the environment and help conserve our precious woodlands.

“We don’t want to just teach kids about nature, we want to form future conservationists who will promote sustainable practices and feel connected with the environment.”

Bellincampi said with the advent of smartphones, tablets, and personal computers, more children are prone to having a sedentary lifestyle and being obese.

“We want to put the adventure and the outdoors back into childhood,” Bellincampi said. “There is an obesity epidemic in America, and we want to encourage kids to get up and explore nature.”

For Bellincampi, providing a nature preschool to children allows them to gain skills and essentials that are “healthy for body and mind.”

“We want to deepen our connection with nature,” Bellincampi said. “At the same time, we are also becoming closer to each other, our kids, and our families.”

Felix Neck has had programs in the past that focus on immersing children in the outdoors and teaching them practical knowledge on nature, but Bellincampi said this program is going to be ongoing, and will seek to help children year after year.

“In some ways, this preschool is new, but in other ways we have been doing this for 50 years,” Bellincampi said. “We want this to be something that is entirely dedicated to the kids, although the idea of providing kids with a different kind of learning has been around for as long as we have.”

Bellincamp related the current generation to her own generation, and said that there are many distractions that cause children to become detached from the natural world.

“We want kids to run, play, swim, and learn from what is around them,” Bellincampi said. “This understanding is so essential.”

 

There will be an open house on May 2, from 4 to 5 pm, for interested families who want to know about the program. Kids and parents can meet Felix Neck staff and ask questions. Felix Neck has a waitlist for the program, and anyone who is interested is encouraged to call the sanctuary at 508-627-4850, or email felixneck@massaudubon.org.