PORT ANGELES — Anya Samawicz had long dreamed of a school where her daughter, Sunny, could explore the wonders of the outdoors.
After years of planning and working with local community organizations, families, teachers and city officials, Samawicz and the Port Angeles Nature School is set to open its first outdoor preschool in early September.
“There’s not a lot of options for preschools in our town, let alone preschools that let the kids go outside for a large portion of the day,” Samawicz said Friday.
Classes will be based at the historic Loomis Cabin at Lincoln Park in west Port Angeles.
Monthly field trips to Webster’s Woods and other local parks, gardens and farms will be offered throughout the year.
Registration is open for pre-kindergarten students who have “independent bathroom skills.”
Outdoor preschool will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The first class is Sept. 4.
The monthly rate is $140 per child per day of the week.
To register, go to www.panatureschool.wordpress.com.
“If you haven’t been to the forest and pond side of Lincoln Park in a while and you have young children, you need to check it out,” said Samawicz, a former park ranger and environmental educator, in a press release.
“I do miss the longhouse that used to be there, but it’s still a perfect sample of our local flora and fauna with a nice variety of ecosystems close to town, and being on a bus route is a huge bonus; plus the historical cabins make it a unique cultural landmark.”
Samawicz, who founded the nonprofit three years ago, is organizing the outdoor preschool with nature school Director Merissa Koller Williams.
Port Angeles Nature School Lead Teacher Mandy Miller, a former NatureBridge teacher, said she and her husband, a high school science teacher, enjoyed teaching outdoors at Lake Crescent.
“But we always wished we could have taught more local kids in their own ‘big backyard,’ Miller said in a press release.
“I’m excited to work with our school districts to make outdoor learning a part of everyday public school curricula here, starting with preschool.
“The Olympic Peninsula is teeming with wonderfully rich cultural and natural histories to excite and inspire growing minds of all ages — it’s a fantastic place to be a teacher,” Miller added.
Samawicz said Washington and Oregon are on track to becoming the first states to license outdoor preschool programs.
Once the outdoor school is licensed, the Port Angeles Nature School will work with the Port Angeles School District to offer the program to older students.
The goal is “getting kids outside in any way, shape or form,” Samawicz said.
“I worked as a park ranger here and it was stunning,” Samawicz said in a Friday interview at Lincoln Park.
“We did a program in Forks, and some of the kids who grew up in Forks that were in high school had never been out to the wild coast, and I know that’s true everywhere.”
Samawicz said her daughter, now 2 1/2, was a “major motivator to get the program started.”
Port Angeles Nature School officials hope to have at least eight students in fall classes. Two had registered as of Friday.
Teachers and preschool students will have access to the Loomis Cabin, restrooms, fireplace and kitchen.
Outdoor learning will take place year round.
“The outdoor preschool model has been practiced in a lot of different places around the world, and this is just an ideal place because it really doesn’t get that cold here,” Samawicz said.
“There’s outdoor preschool programs in Sweden and Finland, where the kids are bundled up and they’re out in negative 20 degree weather.”
Students in the outdoor preschool will learn “everything a child would learn in a more ‘conventional’ preschool to get ready for kindergarten, but outdoors with a nature-focused twist,” according to a press release.
Samawicz thanked Port Angeles Parks and Recreation Director Corey Delikat and his staff for helping the preschool open.
The Loomis Cabin, referred to as the Loomis building on the city’s website, was once the Loomis Tavern on U.S. Highway 101 east of Port Angeles.
It was dismantled more than 30 years ago and rebuilt at Lincoln Park.
The city-owned building now serves as a meeting space and kitchen for community groups.
The Port Angeles Nature School aims to “foster a lifelong joy of learning through deep physical and emotional connections with the rich cultural and natural histories of the Olympic Peninsula.”
CascadiaNow! is a 501(c)3 that is functioning as the Port Angeles Nature School’s fiscal sponsor until it is totally independent, according to the school’s website, www.panatureschool.wordpress.com.
For information, check that website or email [email protected].
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].