Co-op school launches new nature-based kindergarten program


By Heather Collins

Carmel Cooperative Preschool, located in West Carmel bordering Zionsville, is introducing a new program this school year. The Fireflies class, a nature-based kindergarten curriculum, begins Sept. 4. 

Kindergarten teacher Jessica Vince said the new program encourages students to learn through exploration, socialization, experimentation and problem-solving. Vince previously taught traditional kindergarten classes in Pike and Warren townships. The play-based, child-centered curriculum is aligned with state standards and also allows children unstructured play time during “forest days,” when children spend the whole day outside exploring. Vince said the outdoor activities promote imaginative play, creativity, hand-eye coordination and balance while helping children build self-confidence.

“This unstructured outside time allows children to learn by building on their own discoveries and interests, making a deeper connection to the natural world,” Vince said. “The indoor activities throughout the week will build upon what the children found relevant and showed interest in.”

CCP decided to launch the class after noting a gap in available classes for children who didn’t meet the age cut-off for Kindergarten and for parents seeking part-time programs on the north side of Carmel. Classes will be from 9:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Zionsville resident Laura Feagans has two children enrolled at CCP: Porter, 4, who will be in the Honeybees class, and Mack, 3, who will be in the Grasshoppers class. Feagans said the new Fireflies class fills a need in the community for parents seeking an alternative to traditional kindergarten. 

“We decided to enroll our children at Carmel Cooperative Preschool because of the focus on play-based learning, parent involvement and the overall fun and positive learning environment,” Feagans said. “We wanted something more than learning the ABCs and 1, 2, 3s. We wanted our kids to learn the life skills they will use throughout their lives.”

Katie Swaney, vice president and membership chair of CCP, said the Fireflies program follows the standards set by the Indiana Early Learning Foundations and the Indiana Association for the Education of Young Children to help foster learning through nature, interaction and play.

“Carmel Cooperative Preschool is an inclusive community where children, parents and educators work together to create a positive play-based learning environment that allows all children to successfully grow emotionally, intellectually and physically,” Swaney said.

As a co-op, parents assist in the classroom twice per month. The Fireflies program also will incorporate unique enrichment activities, including yoga with Silly Hearts Yoga, music with Mr. Daniel and learning French.

Enrollment for the Fireflies class ends Sept. 4. The class is open to children ages 5 to 6 who were born between July 31, 2012 and Sept. 1, 2013. Open enrollment for the 2019-20 school year begins Jan. 20, 2019. For information, visit

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