A new nature-based child care center has opened in Fox Chapel.
The Whirlybird Nature School opened this summer and is enrolling children ages 30 months to 5.
Owner Kelly Jane Walker of Verona holds a master’s degree in education and taught public school in the area for 20 years.
Walker said a lack of available child care centers and preschools was one reason she decided to open Whirlybird.
“I ended up having to hire a nanny to watch my son while my school returned to in-person. I knew there was a need for quality childcare/preschools in our area,” Walker said.
Whirlybird’s approach to learning embraces an “all-rounded development” philosophy. Students are encouraged to become nature stewards of their world. Students will spend about 30 percent of their day outside.
Walker had taught in basement classrooms without windows.
“I started to think about my true passions and things that give me joy,” Walker said. “Nature gives me joy—being outside makes me so happy. I thought, How can I create a job that gets me outside everyday?”
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Kelly Jane Walker helps her daughter Roxie climb down from the tree house at the new Whirlybird Nature school at Beechwood Farms Nature Preserve on Aug. 23 .
The school is located at 614 Dorseyville Rd. in Fox Chapel, in the former Discovery School campus, located at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve. The Discovery School recently relocated to a new larger facility in Hampton Township.
Whirlybird is certified by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, through the Office of Child Development and Early Learning.
Learning spaces include the outdoors, an art studio, imagination station, dramatic play, music, calming corner and STEM spaces.
The nature experience will be year-round, and students will have access to five miles of trails on 134 acres.
“We will go outside everyday most likely no matter what the weather is,” Walker said. “We will follow a guide for wind and air temps to help determine when we don’t go outside. As we spend this time outside, it’s our hope as educators that the students will get interested in something they see, observe or experience. We then can bring that into our classroom for further investigation.”
Walker toured several nature-based early learning centers in Cincinnati to gain inspiration for Whirlybird and recently attended the Natural Start Alliance annual conference on Nature Schools.
Walker previously taught at Pittsburgh Montessori for several years and said teaching preschoolers is especially rewarding.
“These ages are so curious, full of wonder and they’re eager to learn. I love the independence that a Montessori approach gives children,” Walker said.
Whirlybird has seven children enrolled. Total enrollment will cap at 20 students.
Kyle Foor, co-creator of the Whirlybird curriculum, said incoming students can expect to have lots of outdoor exposure.
“The kids will really be immersed in nature with this program. Child care centers give kids time outside, but in our program they will be able to surround themselves outdoors with time to really observe the world around us,” Foor said.
Each classroom will have a certified teacher and an assistant.
Walker will work as a teacher and director.
Tuition ranges from $520 to $1,280 per month, depending on whether parents choose a two-, three-, four- or five-day program.
Aftercare is available from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday for an additional $20 per day.