Gray preps young to be stewards of nature

“I’m the luckiest person on the planet,” said Hannah Gray, who ran Sylvester Manor’s summer youth program this year and last. She will be operating her own Flora & Fauna Forest School Program for the third year this fall.

For several years, Ms. Gray was head teacher at the Shelter Island Early Childhood Learning Program where she introduced many environmentally-based lessons to children 3 to 8 years old. She started with small groups, developing a program she describes as “predominantly child-driven. Children’s thoughts guide activities when their thoughts are transformed by their dreams and wonderings.” 

While the school program isn’t a Sylvester Manor offering, the grounds of the historical educational farm provide the venue for the program that includes studying the environment, literacy, art and music. Guests enhance the learning experiences and the curriculum is constantly changing to adjust to student interests and needs.

Ms. Gray earned her undergraduate degree in sociology at Dowling College and a master’s degree in early childhood education at St. John’s University. But her education didn’t stop there. The Flora & Fauna Program grew out of her week in Gilwell Park, north of London, in 2018. She describes Gilwell Park as “a lovely area for children and foxes.” She brought the program back to the Shelter Island Early Childhood Learning Center program and students spent three afternoons a week at Sylvester Manor exploring plant life and other wonders of nature.

Stephen Searl, executive director of the Sylvester Manor Educational Farm, said at the time that the program provided another way to partner with a local organization and bring its own mission to life.

Ms. Gray is also trained in the Reggio Emilia Approach to learning. The basic idea, according to the founder of the Reggio Emilia preschool teaching method, is that “things about children and for children are only learned from children.” Ms. Gray said she has seen “the most enchanting facets of the human race in the untamed hearts of children.”

To teach and for students to learn “among the trees, inside the embrace of birds, crickets, foxes, water and the rustle of leaves, is idyllic on its own,” she said. Being surrounded by the history of Sylvester Manor “in the spirit of those who once walked the land” enhances the experience. Providing her young students with the understanding of the flora and fauna will prepare them to become the stewards for their world, she said.

Fall school plans call for a program from 11 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. five days a week. An after-school program from 3 to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays is offered for students between the ages of 5 and 7; and on Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday afternoons between 3 and 5 p.m. for those between the ages of 8 and 12. 

For information and applications, email Ms. Gray at [email protected],org or call 631-875-9300.