NatureYear can be a great fit for children who:
Are curious and like to ask questions and explore, both with friends/adults and independently. A core practice of the NatureYear program is allowing children time for unstructured and independent exploration and play in nature. Teachers are highly mindful of safety and supervision, but will not always be physically proximate to children.
Are interested in learning and playing outdoors in all weather. This can be lots of fun, and teachers help make sure children have put on their gear correctly and that we are taking weather related breaks as needed. We are happy to help children and families learn about how to enjoy outdoor time in all seasons.
Are homeschooled OR whose families are ready to help them meet academic expectations associated with missed days of school. Our homeschooling families integrate the NatureYear experience into their learning in various ways. For children enrolled in public or private school, the school and the family typically agree on what work needs to be made up. Common Ground provides daily attendance for enrolled children and parents can share that documentation with school if requested. While we have lots of learning goals, the NatureYear program does not do any specific academic assessment or reporting.
Would thrive in a program where we focus on ownership, leadership and being part of a community. NatureYear has many opportunities for children to follow their individual interests, and children are also asked to practice the skills needed to build strong community. Community is built through circling up and listening to teachers and peers at daily group meetings, through participation in group activities, and through intentional modeling by teachers of collaborative decision making. Ownership and responsibility are developed through helping with daily chores. Children care for farm animals, cut fire wood, water the garden, tidy the cabin, and work together to care for our campus. Child-led activities are a great opportunity for practicing decision making and leadership skills.
Program demographics: who is enrolled in NatureYear?
Homeschoolers and children enrolled in school
We welcome a mix of homeschoolers and children from public and private schools across the State. Our typical enrollment has been about 25% homeschoolers and 75% children enrolled in school.
We aim for gender balanced groups, including male, female, and non-binary children. Science and nature are for all children, however our applicant pool is often as much as 80% male. In aiming for gender balance, it is often necessary to prioritize female applicants in the overall applicant pool.
We create enrollment rosters for each day carefully, aiming to have a good age balance in each group. Even in mixed age groups with a wide range of ages, we seek to avoid an outlier student who may not feel that they have a natural peer because the rest of the group is significantly younger or older than they are.
Race and culture
We seek to enroll a racially and culturally diverse group of children. Nature is for all, but people of color have been and continue to be marginalized in the environmental movement and in feeling safe and welcome in outdoor spaces. We prioritize the applications of children of color and children from families who may in other ways be underrepresented in outdoor education and recreation. We wish for the children and staff in the program to reflect the broad and varied diversity of our New Haven community. Our average BIPOC enrollment is 39%.
Level of experience with nature
Some of our students come from families who already enjoy lots of outside time. Many come from families who enjoy the occasional hike but would not define themselves as “outdoorsy,” and some come from families who do not have experience outdoors at all (but those parents know it is something that their child is interested in!). So, families entering at all levels of outdoor experience and knowledge are very welcome. We love that we can help provide an experience for some children that is not part of their usual family routine, and celebrate the parents that are seeking to help their child explore their individual interests!
Including children with needs that require accommodation
Special care plans and accommodations are made in conversation with parents, based on the unique needs of each child.
Medical needs: We see many children in our programs who come with epi-pens and/or inhalers. We are highly allergy aware and have careful procedures and training to account for food allergies. Staff are trained in the administration of epi-pens and inhalers. Please note that we do NOT have a nurse on staff and may not be able to meet all unique healthcare needs. We are always happy to have individual conversations to talk about what is possible.
Social, emotional, and developmental needs: All of our programs at Common Ground welcome and include children who have social, emotional, and developmental needs that are different than their typical peers. Enrolled children include those with ADHD, anxiety, autism, and other needs and diagnoses. While our child to teacher ratios are small, we are not routinely set up for one to one support. Children are safest and will gain the most benefit from the program when they can participate in groups with other children, follow safety directions, make transitions and choices among the offered activities, and stay with the group and within designated boundaries. We are not a fenced campus, and children regularly participate in activities like tool use and campfire cooking that require attention and compliance with direction. We know that each child’s needs, strengths, and behaviors are unique, and are happy to talk with you about how your child’s needs may be able to be met in our programs.
Our policy for drop-off programs requires participants to be up to date on childhood vaccinations (those that are required for school, which currently does not include requirements for flu or covid vaccination). Medical exemptions are accepted but personal or religious exemptions are not (including grandfathered in exemption forms). THIS form must be completed by the child’s pediatrician for medical exemption to vaccination.
All children and families, regardless of vaccination status, continue to be welcome at events and classes that are not drop-off programs (Open Farm Day, weekend events, and other programs that children attend with a caregiver).