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 class
  • 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)

A sketch of

Our Day

By creating a “sketch” of 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.

  • 8:00 – 9:00 Optional before care
  • 9:00 – 9:15 Morning round-up
  • 9:15 – 10:15 Morning exploration
    • A child-driven exploration of one of Fernbrook’s unique ecosystems – the forest, the creek, the pond, the meadow, or the garden.
  • 10:15 – 10:35 Hand washing and snack time
  • 10:35 – 11:05 Small group activity
    • Small group activities could include crafts or special hands-on experiments. By providing time for small groups in our day, students are able to develop stronger connections with their teachers and peers.
  • 11:05 – 11:55 Free choice nature play
    • Students will have the opportunity to engage in open-ended play in our specially designed nature playspace
  • 11:55 – 12:30 Hand washing and lunch time
  • 12:30 – 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 – 2:15 Snack time
  • 2:15 – 3:15 Afternoon exploration
    • Teachers will guide students to expand on the concepts addressed throughout our day, both in and out of the classroom. Our afternoon could include a letter scavenger hunt in the forest or searching for frogs at the pond after learning about their life cycle during small group time.
  • 3:15 – 3:30 Goodbye round-up
    • Students will gather as a community to recall what they did and reflect on their day.
  • 3:30 – 6:00 Optional after care

*Morning-only students will leave at 12:30pm after lunch time. Afternoon-only students will arrive at 1:00 pm and will have an opportunity to join a teacher on an open-ended exploration while the full-day Saplings will either engage in quiet time or join the open-ended exploration (depending on parent’s preference). Upon the return of the afternoon students, we will all be re-energized and ready to join together for the remainder of the day’s activities.

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 peak 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.

Shelter building 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!

Taking care of 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.

Puddle hike through 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.

Picnic snack and storytime 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!

Making 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.


Prepare for Kindergarten

The Saplings program is designed for children who are preparing to enter 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 by September 8, 2020 and must be fully potty trained^ by the start of the program.

Mornings (9 – 12:30)* Afternoons (1 – 3:30)* Full Day (9 – 3:30)*
Sept.-Dec. Jan.-June Sept. – June Sept.-Dec. Jan.-June Sept. – June Sept.-Dec. Jan.-June Sept. – June
16 Weeks 24 Weeks 40 Weeks 16 Weeks 24 Weeks 40 Weeks 16 Weeks 24 Weeks 40 Weeks
2 Days/Week $1232 $1848 $3080 $920 $1380 $2300 $2080 $3120 $5200
3 Days/Week $1764 $2646 $4410 $1320 $1980 $3300 $2964 $4446 $7410
4 Days/Week $2240 $3360 $5600 $1680 $2520 $4200 $3744 $5616 $9360
5 Days/Week $2660 $3990 $6650 $2000 $3000 $5000 $4420 $6630 $11050

*Extended Care is available in both the mornings and afternoons at $6/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.

^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 Calendar

September 8th, 2020 – First day of Saplings

November 25, 2020 – Half day

November 26 – November 27 – Thanksgiving break

December 23 – Half day, last day of first semester

December 24 – January 1, 2021 – Closed for winter break

January 4, 2021 – First day of second semester

May 31, 2021 – Closed Memorial Day

June 18th, 2021 – Final Day