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Cocoplum
Nature School

 

About
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Vision

Liberated learners who pursue personal fulfillment, connection with others, and a healthier, more just planet

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Mission

Early childhood, elementary school and related programs built on the pillars of nature-based, place-based, and play-based learning

Vision & Mission
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History

Cocoplum Nature School was founded in 2020 by two Delray Beach mothers, educators, and environmental stewards, Dr. Fernanda Wolfson and Dr. Melanie Stefanovic. Their friendship began at the children's library and local community gardens when their first children were babies. Friendship blossomed into co-founding the evidence-based school they each dreamed of for their own children.

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Philosophy

Everything that is taught in traditional schools with textbooks and rote practice can be learned by children outdoors with natural materials through play, exploration, and inquiry. In fact, for most of humanity, children have joyfully learned all they needed to know and do through play groups, the natural world, markets, gardens and farms, and other settings not bound by four walls.

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Framework

The three pillars of Cocoplum's curriculum are nature, place, and play. We employ Reggio Emilia methods of observation, documentation, and assessment. Learning is individualized, largely self-directed, experiential, and social. We foster critical thinking and creativity, not conformity, and we cultivate collaboration and communication, not competition.

History, Philosophy, Curriculum
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Beliefs, Values, & Practices

Beliefs, Values, & Practices

We believe...

All children can and do learn in their own way in their own time.

All children are parts of nature and important members in their communities.

All children need and want to acquire knowledge and to develop skills.

All children deserve access to fulfilling learning experiences.

All children need skills to earn a dignified living wage and to contribute positively to their communities.

All children deserve compassion, respect, and dignity.

All children’s experiences, thoughts, inquiries, and contributions are valid and valuable.

All of us benefit when schools foster critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration in community.

We value...

Individualized and experiential learning.

Learning in nature, from nature, and according to children’s natural development.

Intrinsic motivation and joyful learning.

 

Inclusion and equitable opportunities.

 

 

Evidence-based curriculum and expert knowledge.

 

Trustful and connected guidance.

 

 

Democracy; Children’s active agency in their own learning and school experiences.

 

Diverse perspectives and experiences

We practice...

Reggio Emilia inspired emergent curriculum.

Nature-based and place-based pedagogies.

 

 

A variety of instructional methods in mixed age groups.

Removing barriers and focusing on assets.

Direct instruction by skilled facilitators for discrete skills.

 

Protocols and procedures that honor autonomy and individuality

Child-centric and play-based pedagogies.

 

 

Thoughtful acquisition of materials and texts, staff development that promotes professional autonomy, and democratic processes.

Testimonials

"I couldn’t imagine my child at a different school and I don’t think he could either."

 

"She wants to go to school every day, so of course that makes us happy parents."

 

"I know my daughter’s interests and curiosities are valued."

 

"CNS has provided a safe and stable environment for my child. She loves going to school."

2021 by Ty Powell. All rights reserved.
Testimonials
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FAQs Answered by Caregivers

How does nature school work?

The children are encouraged to wander, dream, experiment, question and explore. Through the fascination and inquisitiveness that is inherent in their nature, they discover the world around them in real time through real experiences creating a deep learning that will stay with them and allow them to grow. The teachers offer suggestions, look for interests, ask questions and encourage discovery. They run with the interests of the children instilling the learning principles that we all hope for within the context of their interests – not the other way around. This fosters autonomy, confidence, growth and a love of life and learning.

- Mother of a 7-year-old

Are you worried your child will get hurt? 

Not really. Of course there is always the risk of injury, but the children are closely supervised given the small student to teacher ratio. Also, accidents happen everywhere, and at least at Cocoplum I know when my child gets hurts she we will be cared for by a well-trained, empathetic adult.

- Mother of a 5-year-old 

How do you track your child's progress?

We measure progress by his social/emotional growth just as much as everything else. There are academic areas currently where he is excelling and areas where he is coming along at his own pace. He is not struggling anywhere and is a happy, well-adapted child building his own confidence in his world. And in the areas that he is not interested, we have seen that at his own time, learning in those avenues will and has come around - never forced and never feeling inept. We receive narratives of learning from the teachers that fully document the experiences, growth, and learning he is undergoing. We are encouraged and lead by the school to further provide opportunities for him in the avenues he is most interested in. 

- Mother of a 7-year-old 

What do Cocoplum students do all day?

In a word: PLAY! As simple as this may sound, their play is extremely dynamic. It is fully immersive, so collaborative and engaging, that they don’t even realize that they are absorbing and learning so much. Whether this consists of making mud pies and selling them to make a profit, water play with physics, animal yoga or enjoying their numerous field trips all over, these kids are learning math, science, history, reading, writing, economics, mindfulness, emotional regulation, music, art and tons of physical education. Most importantly, they are busy soaking up and giving out all of the kindness, friendship and love of their Cocoplum community!

- Mother of a 6-year-old 

How do they learn to read?

By following their own interests and curiosities. The children are continually invited to activities that will allow them to build the foundation for reading. They even guide and help each other which instills a sense of community at a young age and creates a safe space to learn. By traditional school standards our son would be considered “behind” on reading and writing because he didn’t start until almost the age of 7. Yet, since he was allowed to discover, create a curiosity and interest and then begin learning at his own pace, he has shown a deep interest and enjoyment in reading and writing. When there is no pressure, this enjoyment will stay with him for the rest of his life, instead of being labeled as “behind” which could create a displeasure and sense of being not good enough.

- Father of a 7-year-old

How does the school handle conflict?

I was particularly impressed with how Cocoplum handles conflict resolution with the children. Cocoplum teaches the kids social-emotional skills so that they can understand, experience, express and manage their emotions. They are also encouraged to interpret their classmates’ emotions as well. Since these kids are at play in nature every day, they are given the opportunity to practice conflict resolution and self-regulation in a playful setting and to find common ground and peacefully make amends. I have noticed that communication and naming feelings is key at Cocoplum in helping the children better understand conflict and work through it together.

- Father of a 7-year-old 

FAQs
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High Professional Standards

Evidence Base

The evidence from dozens of studies conducted over about a decade converges around a single conclusion: “In academic contexts, nature-based instruction outperforms traditional instruction” (National Institutes for Health, 2019, p. 1).  Natural surroundings and unstructured play have significant benefits for learning.

Code of Ethics

We hold our employees and volunteers to the highest standards, and our topmost priority is the protection and safety of the children in our care. To learn more about our Standards of Ethics, click here.

Affiliations

Cocoplum Nature School is proud to be an organizational member of the Eastern Regional Association of Forest and Nature Schools (ERAFANS), the Natural Start Alliance (NSA), the North American Association of Environmental Education (NAAEE), and the League of Environmental Educators in Florida (LEEF).

High Professional Standards

Cocoplum Educators

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Melanie Stefanovic, PhD

Co-founder + Executive Director

Mother and wife

20 years of experience in education

Beach-goer, skier, handy-person

Published education researcher

Defender of childhood

Admirer of our natural world

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Fernanda Wolfson, EdD

Co-founder + Director of Curriculum & Instruction

Mother of two boys

15+ years of experience

International program evaluator

ERAFANS Certified

Creator of Global story Time and Bilingual Nature Play

Human/Children's Rights Advocate

Gardener, Reader, Music Lover

Cocoplum Educators
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Paulina Bajos

Teaching & Administrative Assistant

Kristi Brock

Reading Specialist + 1st Grade Lead

Vivi Garcia

Early Childhood Facilitator

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Christina Lucas

Kindergarten Lead

Salwa Mansour

2nd Grade Lead

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Future Cocoplum Facilitator

Experience with Reggio Emilia approach

Knowledge of child development

Practitioner of conscious discipline

Enjoys a tight-knit and diverse workplace

Lover of nature and the outdoors

Confident, agile, creative

Board of Directors

Board of Directors

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