New pre-kindergarten schools to take nature and high-tech focus

Director and Master Teacher Natalie Hansen will soon open the doors of Catoctin Sun Nature Preschool, located behind Glade Valley Church of the Brethren in Walkersville. The preschool follows the Reggio Emilia perspective Ñ a hands-on, child-led program based on bringing the indoors, as well as outdoors. Staff photo by Bill Green

New pre-kindergarten schools are coming online with specific focuses. A high-tech pre-K school in Frederick that targets children from low-income families, and another school that brings the indoors outdoors in Walkersville, are slated to open in the fall.

Frederick’s first high-tech pre-K school is to be at Grace United Church of Christ on East Third Street.

“Our dream is to be in the position to accept state vouchers from qualifying families,” said Teddi Garrison, who is working to open the school with her daughter, Traci Keyes. Keyes has been in the early childhood education industry for more than 25 years.

Subsidized tuition for qualifying families is their goal, but the cost of opening a school makes it prohibitive to offer scholarships at this time, Garrison said.

Computer tablets will be bought for children. Many of the lessons will be online, and the children will learn how to navigate their way around the computer world. The plan is to have one tablet for no more than two children.

Keyes expects a Maryland state license to operate the school soon. The school is a community outreach project of the church, Keyes said.

“This is something the church has thought about for several years, and the church is in a position where something like this can come into play to fill a need, especially being a downtown church,” Keyes said.

Keyes expects a full class of 12 children initially, and she hopes the program will expand in the future to be able to help more families. Fees are still being discussed, Keyes said, but the goal is make the program affordable for average families.

“We are working toward the Maryland state accreditation, something most pre-K’s in Frederick do not have,” Garrison said.

Outdoor learning

Catoctin Sun Nature Preschool, in a small brick cottage stable behind Glade Valley Church of the Brethren in Walkersville, follows the Reggio Emilia perspective — a hands-on, child-led program based on bringing the indoors outdoors, said Natalie Hansen, director and master teacher.

The Reggio perspective has smaller classes, lots of messy, sensory-based play and plenty of time to explore the green shady play space on the school’s discovery playground, said Hansen, founder of the preschool.

Catoctin Sun Nature Preschool’s long-term project approach model allows even the youngest children to demonstrate what they have learned through monthly culminating activities and family involvement. The project approach also takes cues from children to find out where their interest is, and the three-prong approach asks, "what do you know, what do you want to know, and what did you learn,” Hansen said.

Julie Clark believes the school's child-led learning style will benefit her 3-year-old son.

"They explore nature and bring the materials back to the classroom for examination," Clark said. "When my son returned from orientation, he began to ask, 'what can I see, what can I look for.' It increases curiosity, and it was fun to watch."

Hansen has spent the last 20 years working as a lead preschool teacher, curriculum writer and child development specialist, “but my first love is teaching preschool to very young children,” she said.

To date, 21 sts have been enrolled, but Hansen’s goal is 25 children for the open-plan, one-room school, which is a renovated old stable owned by Glade Valley Church of the Brethren.

Catoctin Sun Nature Preschool offers a gluten-free snack program. Staff members are specially trained in handling allergies and food sensitivities. The vision also includes a zero-waste policy, which includes reusable lunch containers, and using natural cleaning supplies in the classroom, Hansen said.

Catoctin Sun Nature Preschool offers Monday, Wednesday and Friday programs for children ages 3 1/2 to 5 years of age and Tuesday and Thursday programs for ages 2 1/2 to 3.

Contact Teddi Garrison at 301-533-8437 or Grace Church at 301-668-3312 for details.

(4) comments


The normal preschool child development process demands the use of lots of three dimensional objects to facilitate vision, motor, and cognitive development especially spatial relationships. Sitting and starring at the flat screen of a tecnological device is not appropriate for this age level.

Families rely on NAEYC Accreditation to ensure the quality of education and care provided in programs for young children. NAEYC Accreditation is the mark of quality, helping parents find the best possible early childhood experience.



I cannot agree more. In fact, learning social skills at this age is far more important than any computer skill.


Teaching nature?? Getting warmer since the ice age and we can't stop it wanta bet.EPA will object this truth.


President wins the cranky old man first post award. Unfortunately, this is a common for this poster. [beam]

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