ages 3-5




The Saplings program at Fernbrook Farms is a play-based nature program for young learners ages 3-5. Sapling students will have the unique opportunity to develop meaningful connections with their peers, teachers, and the natural world while immersed in the diverse ecosystems of Fernbrook Farms.

Our Saplings program is specially designed to provide the roots that will allow children to grow and develop at their own unique pace. Each day will follow a set routine that will provide opportunities for children to participate in activities where they will be encouraged to ask questions, seek their own answers, and openly explore the world around them.

"Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results."

-John Dewey

A handful of

Our Features

  • Emphasis on play-based learning
  • Child-driven activities
  • A high % of each day spent outside
  • Mixed-age classes
  • Indoor and outdoor classroom space available
  • Half-day and full-day options
  • Choose your days of the week
  • Small class size (no more than 12 students)
  • Lead teachers certified in nature-based education


The rhythm of

Our Day

By creating and following a rhythm for our day, our teachers are able to accommodate the flexibility that comes with child-driven education while still providing students with the consistent, predictable routine they require to be successful. The times noted in the sample day below are meant as a guide and may not always be exact, but the order and routine of our daily activities will remain the same. 

  • 8:00 – 9:00 Optional before care
  • 8:45 – 9:00 Drop-Off Time
  • 9:00 – 9:45 Free time in one of our outdoor playspaces
  • 9:45 – 10:15 Bathrooms, handwashing, and snack
  • 10:30 – 11:45 Morning exploration
    • A child-driven exploration of one of Fernbrook’s unique ecosystems – the forest, the creek, the pond, the meadow, or the garden.
  • 11:45 – 12:30 Bathrooms, hand washing, and lunch
  • 12:30 – Pick-up for morning-only students
  • 12:30 – 1:00 Free time
  • 1:00 – 2:00 Quiet time
    • Students will nap or rest, or participate in quiet, independent activities as they rest, relax, & re-energize their bodies to prepare for their afternoon adventures.
  • 2:00 – 2:30 Bathrooms, hand washing, and snack
  • 2:30 – 3:15 Afternoon exploration or activity
  • 3:30 Pick-up for full-day students
    • Students will gather as a community to recall what they did and reflect on their day.
  • 3:30 – 6:00 Optional after care

a few of

Our Activities

With 230 acres and 5 unique ecosystems to explore, the opportunities for adventure and exploration are endless.

Here is just a peek at what our Saplings might experience throughout their time at Fernbrook.

Catching bugs and butterflies in the meadow

Students can use their hands, nets, and jars to catch findings in the meadow – everything from crickets and grasshoppers to butterflies and praying mantises! We can sort our findings, define important features, find matches in our identification guides, and just enjoy watching our bugs and insects find their way back to their homes as we release them!

Playing mud kitchen in the creek

Who doesn’t love cooling off in the shallow creek on a hot day? To make it even better, we’ll bring along some measuring cups and baking tins and use our imaginations as we mix, smoosh, and mash our way through the mud and clay.

Baking treats for the animals

A great math lesson and an opportunity to work together to provide a healthy and delicious snack for our beloved animals! Of course followed by a trip over to the animal barn to watch our furry and feathered friends enjoy their treats.

Constructing shelters in the forest

Saplings can work together to build a shady fort to spend time in or a home for the woodland creatures. By using the fallen leaves in autumn to create a space that will keep us dry, or the snow in the winter to build an igloo to keep us warm, shelter building is different and exciting every time making it a definite Fernbrook favorite!

Caring for plants in the Children's Garden

Fostering both a sense of responsibility and community, time in Fernbrook’s Children’s Garden can include planting seeds, watering plants, or even picking the fresh herbs or veggies to include in our own snack!

Building stick boats at the pond

Investigate the science behind what makes things sink or float while getting creative with the natural materials around us.

Hiking through puddles in the CSA fields

There is no such thing as “bad weather” at Fernbrook Farms! We’re not afraid to put on our rainboots and head out on an adventure to find the biggest, deepest, and all around best puddles on the farm.

Birdwatching with homemade binoculars

There is so much to see and hear as we walk along our trails around the farm. By making our own binoculars, we are able to focus on our observational skills as we hike through the trails and search for native New Jersey birds.

Telling stories while eating a picnic snack on the Great Lawn

Snack doesn’t have to happen in the same place every day! We can find a shady spot, lay out a blanket, and enjoy a healthy fruit or vegetable while listening to a story or creating our own stories to share!

Creating music at the campfire

Building a campfire is the perfect way to get warm and cozy on a chilly day. And to stay active and have some fun too, we can build a drum from sticks and a tree stump or use our voices to sing along to some of our favorite songs.

"Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart."

-Richard Louv

using nature play to

Prepare for Kindergarten

The Saplings program is designed for children who are preparing to enter kindergarten and is not intended to replace kindergarten. Through the use of child-centered emergent curriculum, trained educators will use the interests of the students to guide them through cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development, ultimately preparing them for success in kindergarten and beyond. Some examples of how teachers may facilitate the specific growth of literacy and math skills include, but are not limited to:

  • Stopping to read and point out letters on our trail signs
  • Going on a letter scavenger hunt in the forest and using sticks to practice making letters in the dirt
  • Journal time – each child will have their own nature journal where they can draw pictures and write about their experiences
  • Using field guides to identify plants and wildlife
  • Counting the number of petals or a flower, or legs on a bug finding
  • Investigating shapes and patterns in nature
  • Measuring ingredients as we make a special snack for us or the animals
  • Comparing the sizes of different trees in the forest or of different fish caught in the pond

"I remember when my son was about three, in the constant questioning stage. Trying to be a good mother, I dutifully answered every question with some informative explanation. Then one day in the middle of another train of questions and answers, he suddenly wailed up at me, "Mom, DON'T ANSWER!" and he burst into tears of outrage. I was stunned, but crouching down to hug his tears away, I realized that he didn't want my answers. All those questions were a plea to come into his world with him, at his level, to join with him in his curiosity."

-Ellen Haas, Don't Answer!



Please note that your child must be 3 years old and must be fully potty-trained^ by the start of the program.
The Saplings program is intended to prepare children for kindergarten. Students enrolling for the 2023-24 school year should be born after June 12, 2018 and before September 5, 2020.

Full Day (9 – 3:30)* Mornings (9 – 12:30)*
Sept.-Dec. Jan.-June Sept. – June Sept.-Dec. Jan.-June Sept. – June
16 Weeks 24 Weeks 40 Weeks 16 Weeks 24 Weeks 40 Weeks</td
2 Days/Week $2364 $3544 $5908 $1402 $2098 $3500
3 Days/Week $3366 $5048 $8414 $2004 $3006 $5010
4 Days/Week $4254 $6378 $10632 $2544 $3816 $6360
5 Days/Week $5020 $7532 $12552 $3020 $4532 $7552

*Extended Care is available in both the mornings and afternoons at $8/hour. In the mornings, you can drop-off as early as 8 am and in the afternoons, you can stay as late as 6 pm. Please let us know if you will be needing extended care.

^Fernbrook Farms defines fully potty trained by the following:

  • Child is able to use the bathroom without assistance, ie. can pull down/pull up pants and underwear, get on and off the toilet, and wipe after use on their own.
  • Child recognizes their need to use the bathroom before an emergency and will tell an adult they need to go BEFORE they have to go.

A 10% deposit of your tuition is required to confirm your child’s enrollment. Various payment installments exist and can be selected on the enrollment/registration form.


A quick look at...

Our 2023-2024 Calendar

September 5, 2023 – First day of Saplings

October 9, 2023 – Closed, staff in-service day

November 22 – November 24, 2023 – Thanksgiving break

December 22, 2023 – Half day, last day of first semester

December 25 – January 1, 2024 – Closed for winter break

January 2, 2024 – First day of second semester

January 14, 2023 – Closed for MLK Day

February 16, 2024 – Closed, staff in-service day

February 19, 2024 – Closed for President’s Day

May 27, 2024 – Closed for Memorial Day

June 12, 2024 – Last day of second semester