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Local Preschoolers Can Learn Alongside the Wildlife

Imagine a classroom of 23 acres that includes interaction on a regular basis, with live tree frogs, arctic polar bears, red pandas and Western lowland gorillas. That’s the everyday experience for children who attend preschool at the Buffalo Zoo.

Pre-school registration will be gearing up soon. For parents of toddlers considering options for their 3 or 4-year-olds in September, the Preschool at the Zoo offers a learning experience that is truly unique.

“We have a giant outdoor classroom with endless possibilities for exploration and discovery,” says Tiffany Vanderwerf, the Zoo’s curator of education. “This kind of learning environment is unlike any other. By immersing children in it, we hope to develop a love and appreciation of the natural world that will last a lifetime.”

Founded in 2015, the Preschool at the Zoo program is based on the early childhood education philosophy of preschools in Reggio Emilia, Italy.

The Reggio approach is characterized by:

  • child-centered learning
  • opportunities for children to explore their own interests
  • emphasis on play
  • focus on nature and the outdoors
  • extensive, meaningful projects
  • a caring classroom community

Every year, students take part in special project tending to the community garden. “The kids plant seeds and all the vegetables and fruits are given to the animals,” says Christian Dobosiewicz, manager of communications.

Students also have access to the Delta Sonic Heritage Farm, which is a recreation of a farm from the mid-1800’s that houses heritage breeds of domestic animals. Kids can travel back in time to see how an actual farm functioned in that era. The farm includes a wetlands area as well as a replica of an Erie Canal Lock.

The primary emphasis of the Preschool is hands-on experience. “By starting children out as young as possible, developing a love of learning and an appreciation of the natural world, it’s hoped that this is going to stick with kids forever,” says Dobosiewicz.

The Preschool is led by head teacher Anna Ileto, who also serves as the Zoo’s Early Childhood Programs Specialist. She holds a Master’s degree in Teaching and Curriculum. Ileto has more than 10 years of experience working with children, eight years of which were in learning centers that emphasize the Reggio Emilio approach to education. She advocates building a strong foundation in children’s early years to become lifelong learners and contributing members of the community.

Classes at the Preschool are available Monday – Friday from 9:00-11:30 a.m. Children must be 3 or 4 years old by September 5, 2018 in order to attend. Enrollment is based on a first-come, first-served basis. There are three upcoming open house dates for interested parents: March 24, April 14 and June 16, 10:00 – 1:00 p.m. in Room 225 of the Education Building.

To find out more information about the Preschool, call 716-995-6140.

Online registration is available by visiting Click on “experiences” and scroll down to Preschool at the Zoo.