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When we have the honour of being part of exceptional award-winning projects like this one we want to shout about it. The Environmental Nature Center and Preschool in Newport, California, is an incredible place, not only to visit, but as an inspiration to so many about what is possible when it comes to educating and creating lived experiences for children about the environment and its stewardship. Natural Pod’s sustainable furniture was chosen to outfit its three indoor, outdoor integrated classrooms within the Nature Preschool, and was the center’s first choice because of our stringent adherence to every component of our products being truly safe, healthy and sustainable. The center has the highest standards possible when it comes to design and environmental responsibility, and we were excited when challenged to show if Natural Pod products meet those standards in addition to being aesthetically beautiful. Some of the questions asked were, is there any off-gassing? What varnish is used? What is the edging made from? Where have the materials come from, and who made them? As we also hold ourselves and our products to the highest standards of sustainability, we passed the challenge and formed a great partnership. We’re very proud to be part of the solution in creating and bringing to life the amazing Environmental Nature Center and Preschool and all the educational opportunities it provides.

The center has won a number of awards in recognition of their truly lived values around sustainability.
Integrated design firm LPA received a national COTE Top Ten award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the industry’s highest award for sustainable design, for the design of the Environmental Nature Center and Preschool. The AIA also awarded the two LEED Platinum, net-zero projects with the COTE Top Ten Plus designation, which recognizes projects that have already demonstrated “exemplary performance and generated post-occupancy lessons.” The Environmental Nature Center (ENC) was the only one of the projects honoured to receive the Top Ten Plus designation.

The ENC Nature Preschool occupies a five acre campus set within the Environmental Nature Center, providing quality early childhood education through hands-on experience with Nature. The early learners spend around 80% of their time outside, with the remaining time being enjoyed in their beautifully designed indoor/outdoor integrated classrooms.

Their Educational Philosophy: ENC Nature Preschool is a developmental play-based emergent curriculum where children’s ideas, inquiries, discoveries, and investigations are nurtured and implemented. With hands-on daily experiences children acquire a deep intuitive understanding of nature and the natural world. Engagement in the environment and with others is where real learning occurs. Attributes of the Outdoor Classroom Project, Reggio Emilia and Waldorf approaches contribute to the curriculum foundation.

Energy efficiency and water conservation are baked into every element of the Nature Center and Preschool. The butterfly-shaped roof opens the classrooms to natural light and supports a 32KW array of photovoltaic panels, which are designed to provide 105 percent of the net energy for the preschool’s electrical needs. Natural ventilation, low-energy ceiling fans and a radiant floor heating system eliminated the need for traditional HVAC systems. Rainwater is treated as an educational tool, where water is channeled through rock basins and bioswales, and naturally treated and clarified by plant materials.

The Environmental Nature Center and Preschool really is an exceptional place, and we hope many other educators and thought leaders are inspired to create similar centers to support young learners in engaging with the natural world and their own development in such meaningful ways.

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