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Hopedale - Local Town Pages

A successful start for Hopedale’s Forest Friends

The Bright Beginnings Center, preschool for the Hopedale Public Schools, is known for the exceptional early childhood experiences it provides Hopedale’s students as a foundation for their educations. In the past, BBC’s learning experiences were traditional ones, contained in the four walls of its classrooms and on its playground. This year, the Bright Beginnings Center took an innovative new step in the form of providing nature-based preschool to the residents of Hopedale and surrounding towns. The Forest Friends program, a completely outdoor preschool class, began in late August and will finish its first very successful school year this June. 
“The first year went better than anyone could have imagined,” said Bright Beginnings Center Principal Kristen Poisson. “In researching nature-based learning, it seemed to be such a great fit for Hopedale with the Parklands right around the corner from BBC and it turned out that it was.”
The Bright Beginnings Center staff spent the prior year researching nature based early childhood education and visiting town departments to clear their proposal with those involved. As the only preschool run by a public school district in the area to take on nature based learning, BBC looked at how to combine the more child-led nature based learning model with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s pre-kindergarten curriculum frameworks. 
“We already strive for child-led, play-based learning in our traditional classrooms,” said Poisson, “so combining academic learning with nature based learning was easier than one might think. Bringing Thea (Goncalves) on as our teacher was the biggest piece to the puzzle because she took my vision and ran with it. She has done amazing things.”
Forest Friends meets four days a week from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm with a combination of time spent at the Hopedale Pond and Parklands and time in the newly created outdoor classroom space on the BBC playground. Curriculum focused heavily on incorporating nature while still maintaining the standards-based learning the state has set out for pre-kindergarteners in its public school preschool programs. 
Teacher Thea Goncalves explained the benefits to learning outdoors in a space that requires more physical navigation and awareness, “Getting kids outside is so important because they’re building their bodies, building their minds, building the whole child. The students developed a deep understanding of themselves and their environment throughout the year. They have a great understanding of their own bodies and what they can do. Trying new things while trusting your body is such an important skill because it leads us to be more comfortable taking risks later on, including academic ones.”
Another benefit to Forest Friends was being off site at the Hopedale Pond. The location offered a special link created between Forest Friends and the town as a whole. “We had so much support from our school community, the School Committee, district administration, the Park Commission, even townspeople who see the class while out walking in the Parklands. It has been such a warm response,” said Goncalves, “A huge thing year was being out and part of the community. From everyday greetings of ‘hello’ from people in the Parklands to visits with the Hopedale Post Office and Fire Department and walking to Atria Draper Place. Being involved in the community has become a major component of Forest Friends.”
Next year Forest Friends will continue to run at the Bright Beginnings Center but with an added twist. Given the success of the program in its first year, parents will now have the option to extend their child’s day to 2:15 pm. The morning will continue to be the nature based outdoor program and the afternoon will feature a hybrid combination of a mix of indoor and outdoor learning. If its first year was any indicator, the future is bright for Forest Friends.
This press release was submitted by the Bright Beginnings Center