Five Towns Early Learning Center Earns National Certification
as Nature Explore Classroom

For years the Board of Directors and the staff of Five Towns Early Learning Center in Inwood, NY, dreamed of introducing the children they serve to a lifelong relationship with nature. In 2009 their dream became reality (and more) when their Nature Explore Classroom was certified. As the center's executive director said, "We are discovering every day that our play garden is more than we ever dreamed." 
In a region where many children have no backyards, this child care center opens it back door so that children may safely run outside to spend time among grass, flowers, and trees. There these children can explore, play, and learn nature's many lessons.
Teachers and children helped plan this space, framed sections for different functions using natural borders and changing ground surface textures. More than a dozen varieties of plants and vines help define boundaries and an area's purpose. Planners chose low-maintenance materials that would last.
The center held workshops and sent materials home to inspire parents and caregivers. They also shared news of its outdoor classroom through advertisements designed to educate and advocate for including nature in early childhood education. As one of their most whimsical advertisements makes clear, they "make time for children to feel the grass, gaze at the sky and dream", in their Nature Explore Classroom.
Children enjoy many large-motor activities in the large Open Area, and scrambling up wooden steps in the Climbing and Crawling Area. They develop strong tactile skills as they dig in dirt prior to potting plants or placing plants in garden beds.
A vine-covered arbor attracts children onto a path to the cedar gazebo. There they gather to make music or hear a favorite story. Often they assemble around a wooden table in the Nature Art Area with their Nature Explore-trained teacher to create masterpieces of pinecones and shells.
It's hard to say whether the children or their teachers enjoy the outdoor classroom more! As the children play among the slightly rolling hills marked by flowering dogwood, butterfly bush, or the star magnolia, they all celebrate the stimulation of nature, and enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds them.
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About the Arbor Day Foundation:
The Arbor Day Foundation is a nonprofit education organization of nearly one million members, with a mission to inspire people to plant, nurture, and celebrate trees. More information on the Foundation and its programs can be found at

About Dimensions Educational Research Foundation:
Dimensions Educational Research Foundation was formed in 1998 to study how science, math and literacy learning can be enhanced by the addition of more visual-spatial activities into classrooms and homes. For a number of years, the Foundation has conducted and collected research on how children best develop visual-spatial skills and how teachers and families can optimally support this development. Dimensions Educational Research Foundation’s goal is to create and deliver unique educational programming to 1) Help people better understand and appreciate the natural world by developing visual-spatial skills; and 2) Improve science, math and literacy learning through visual-spatial skills. More information on the Foundation and its programs can be found at

The Long Island Nature Collaborative for Kids (LINCK) is a network of environmentalists, nature educators, early childhood teachers, and health professionals working together to bring children outdoors and reconnect them with nature. The LINCK program has been designated as a national demonstration site for connecting children with nature by the Dimensions Educational Research Foundation and the Arbor Day Foundation. Download the brochure here. More information on the program can be found at

Become a Volunteer

The Five Towns Early Learning Center offers volunteer opportunities for members of the community. Volunteers from NCJW, Peninsula Section are an integral part of our program, coming weekly to work with the children. High-school students and those who need community service, can find volunteer opportunities here. If you enjoy being with young children, are interested in reading stories to children or would like to share your talents with us, please call the Center at 239-4660. Our volunteers find that what they get out of the experience for exceeds what they give.

How To Donate

Your generosity has a direct impact on the lives of young children. The Five Towns Early Learning Center is a not-for-profit (501c3) organization which depends on support from foundations, government agencies and individuals to fulfill its mission. Your donation is tax deductible in accordance with the rules and regulations of the Internal Revenue Service.

Five Towns Early Learning Center
112 Wahl Avenue
Inwood, NY 11096
Tel: (516) 239-4660
Fax: (516) 239-4910
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