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Randolph College Nursery School offering new nature-based learning class

Instructor Shanna Jackson helps students dig in the garden.

Instructor Shanna Jackson helps students dig in the Organic Garden.

As a rooster crowed in the distance, Randolph College Nursery School students grabbed small shovels and started digging in the College’s Organic Garden while others fed chickens. Later, the small group tracked the growth of tadpoles in the nearby pond.

Right now these are occasional field trips for RCNS students, but soon these kinds of outdoor activities will be the norm for a new class. This fall, “5K” will become the first nature-based preschool class in the region, according to RCNS director Holly Layne.

Carrie McCane '16 and RCNS students track the progress of tadpoles living in the pond.

Carrie McCane ’16 and RCNS students track the growth of tadpoles living in the pond.

“Our goal is to get kids outside, where learning is much less stressful,” Layne said. “Studies have shown that time spent outside helps lengthen attention spans for children. It also helps them start to learn an appreciation for nature. We want them to become more aware and conscious of the environment and how they can help make it better.”

On a typical day, students will spend their mornings outside, touching, smelling, and listening to the many natural wonders found on Randolph’s campus. In addition to helping develop their senses, these activities will also incorporate reading, writing, math, and problem-solving.

“We’ll be getting them to log observations, draw pictures of different trees and write words about them,” Layne said. “For math, we might take a bunch of rocks and find out how many rocks it takes to get from point A to B. From there, we’ll make predictions and count them. It has all the academic elements of kindergarten, but we’re learning things outside in a way that’s more natural and meaningful to children.”

Shanna Jackson, instructor for the new 5K class, said one hallmark of the RCNS program is its small class sizes. No more than eight students are enrolled in each class. “This helps them work on their relationship building skills in a more intimate group,” Jackson said.

RCNS was recently one of the first preschools in the state, and the first in the region, to receive a 5-star rating from the Virginia Star Quality Education Initiative. It’s often used as a training model for national, local, and regional groups.

Last fall, RCNS added a class for 5-year-olds to provide another option for parents who want their children to have extra preparation before kindergarten. RCNS already offers classes for children beginning at 3 years of age. Preschool hours are 8:45-1:30; however, early and late childcare is available.

Registration for RCNS’ new 5K class is now open, and the class begins in August. For more information or to register, please contact Layne at or 434-947-8787.

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