Ellis Hollow
Nature School

Where families create community


Ellis Hollow Nature School (EHNS) is a play-based, indoor/outdoor hybrid program. We provide a loving, engaging environment for children ages 3 through 5. Parents comprise our board, sharing administrative and maintenance duties. For the 2024 – 2025 classes will be held from 8:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. Monday through Thursday. We are located on the grounds of Ellis Hollow Community Center (EHCC), on the Eastern side of Ithaca at 111 Genung Road. The location is convenient to Ithaca, Lansing, Dryden, Brooktondale and Freeville.



At Ellis Hollow Nature School we believe children learn best through meaningful play. Our indoor and outdoor classrooms provide engaging child-centered spaces for children to follow their own interests. We believe when children are intrinsically inquisitive about the world around them they are propelled to learn.

What Makes Us Unique?


Our Teachers

Instead of one lead teacher we are fortunate to have two seasoned teachers who bring decades of experience to our school. Over their tenure the program has evolved in length and setting based on parental, societal and practical needs. Ms. Ellie and Ms. Kai have evolved with us, adapting and enriching each change. In 2020 they both earned their Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature School certifications.


Our Cooperative

Traditional cooperative schools demand regular on-sight participation and extensive involvement. Times have changed and we know many families can’t manage such a demand so we have adapted with less time-sensitive demands and more collaborative support duties.


Our Hybrid Program

We are very fortunate at EHNS to benefit from both a forest and an indoor classroom. Since our emphasis is on learning from nature, we spend most of our days outside but we also host a bright cheery indoor space when weather or whim requires. We find that being in nature is fulfilling and enriching but there is value in learning indoors. We take advantage of both.


Our Forest Classroom

In 2020 an outdoor classroom was created by our industrious teachers AND young students. Nestled in the woods, just a short walk through a meadow and down a wooded trail, the forest classroom is a haven for outdoor exploration and learning. It is constantly evolving, sharing with us the wonders of nature and the lessons she holds. The classroom includes the following: circle time area, mud kitchen, digging area, stick shelters, rock garden, climbing structure, nest swings, solo swings, hammocks, art areas, a theater and a fire pit. Every day is an adventure and offers something new and magical.


Our Indoor Classroom

Our little classroom is a welcoming, cozy place to retreat from the biting cold, high winds, and torrential downpours. Inside we have dedicated areas for reading, imaginary play, dress-up, games, puzzles, building, art, cooking, manipulatives and movement. We have a vast selection of toys, books, instruments, materials and supplies. There is always something new and challenging to keep young hands and minds engaged. Being indoors is novel and always a treat for us.


Our Playground

The playground is tucked behind the Community Center in a large gated area. It is shady with swings, a sandbox, and an expansive structure of tunnels, slides, turrets and bridges. There is also a mini theater with wooden bleachers, perfect for picnicking or putting on shows.


Our Community

Ellis Hollow is a small rural community east of Ithaca that hosts a community center with fields, meadows, woods, a playground, tennis courts, a basketball court and a pool. EHNS (previously known as Ellis Hollow Nursery School) has lived at Ellis Hollow Community Center since its inception in 1953. Far more than a building, the community center hosts a variety of events throughout the year making it possible for EHNS families and children to continue their friendships.


Additional Program Provisions
  • Flexible enrollment days — We have 3 day or 4 day spots available.
  • Drop-in days — Need childcare coverage for a day other than when enrolled? We have you covered! Drop-in days are $30.
  • Rain pants — Rain pants are provided for each child during the year to help with necessary outdoor gear.
  • Staying after pick-up — Our school allows families to stay after and hang out. This also helps foster a tight-knit community, which is very special and unique to our School.

Our Teachers

Ms. Ellie Biddle

EHNS Co-Teacher

Ms. Kai Dickinson

EHNS Co-Teacher


Ms. Kai and Ms. Ellie come from backgrounds in early childhood education and have been teaching together at EHNS since 2011. Together they follow a co-teacher model sharing the responsibilities of the school.
Ms. Ellie encourages curiosity and independence in children which are her guiding principles for teaching. She gently guides children by asking them questions, letting them work through challenges and encouraging them to discover their own answers. She delights in learning alongside children, being guided by their questions and witnessing their “aha!” moments.

Ms. Kai is creative, nurturing and fun. She is easily able to see things from a child’s perspective. She honors each child’s individual gifts and abilities making them feel heard, seen and valued. She has a way of thinking outside the box and coming up with innovative ideas and solutions. Children gravitate towards her playfulness and know they have a soft place to land with her.
Together Ms. Kai and Ms. Ellie aspire to instill the love of nature, literature, music, art, and science in young children. They hope to facilitate the growth of strong problem solvers and broad-minded, independent thinkers. They want to help build confidence, encourage curiosity, cultivate empathy, and foster respect for each other and our planet; giving our children the best possible start for a lifetime of learning. As a team, Ms. Ellie and Ms. Kai, cover all the bases of a holistic early childhood program. Their collaboration and care is truly a treasure.




The Ellis Hollow Nature School curriculum is designed to enable age appropriate, self-directed exploration and discovery. The goal is to aid in the development of the whole child: cognitive, creative, motor, sensory, language, social, and emotional development. Based on the children’s ideas and interests we create open-ended themes that challenge different learning styles and ages. When indoors, activity centers and circle time continually reflect those themes. When outdoors, students continue to inspire the learning, with tasks and activities inspired by their interests each day. We engage children by asking questions that help them be self-reflective and independent problem solvers. This is all intended for building children’s self-esteem, as well as enthusiasm for and ownership of learning.


At Ellis Hollow Nature School, we recognize that entering kindergarten is a big step – a step that requires more from our young children than any other time in history.  Our goal is to provide graduating preschoolers with the building blocks for success in kindergarten and beyond. We work towards this through play and fostering natural interest. Our multi-age program supports this process, when older students model and spark interest in their younger classmates. On their own timetable, the children develop early literacy skills – letter recognition, and phonemic awareness – and early math skills – an understanding of patterns, ordinal counting, and number recognition. As experienced early childhood educators, we follow the children’s cues, scaffold their learning, and facilitate the growth of self-help and peer problem solving skills. Our children become self-sufficient, confident, and strong problem solvers.

Our Cooperative


Cooperative: involving mutual assistance in working toward a common goal

Our common goal at EHNS is to provide our children and their families a community that is inclusive, supportive, and playful while modeling collaboration. The Nature School is a non-profit cooperative run by a board of parents who volunteer each year to serve in close collaboration with the teachers. All families are involved in decision making, fundraising and publicity. Parent responsibilities listed below build community through gathering and collaboration.

Parent responsibilities include
  • sitting on the board (all 5 board members are parents)
  • attending 3 mandatory parent-meetings
  • participating in 1 of 2 outdoor clean-up parties
  • aiding in fundraising efforts
  • participating in publicity events
  • joining  school celebrations
  • sharing in snow / trash / recycling removal
  • Paying monthly tuition

Throughout the year there are various other opportunities to create community beyond the listed requirements, such as gathering on the playground for lunch after school and our traditional celebrations, when the children, with the teachers, showcase the songs, art and food they’ve created.
Children, siblings and family members are welcome to take part in any of our extra events with the exception of the mandatory meetings which are designated for the board of directors, teachers and parents to discuss logistics.
The School is supported by tuition payments, fundraising, and parent participation. Fundraisers are not only important for contributing to the overall budget and unexpected expenses, but also valuable for community building. Portions of fundraising proceeds are dedicated to teacher wish-list items, and needs-based scholarships.

Our Family

Our family during the school year

Stone Soup Celebration


Learning through Play!


Building Blocks for Success


Quotes from Our Families

“We had the best experience at Ellis Hollow Nature School last year. Ms. Ellie and Ms. Kai carefully created an engaging learning environment, allowing natural inquiry and play-based learning to be at the heart of each day. The program helped our boys connect deeply to the natural world around them, helped form strong connections with their peers, and most importantly gifted our family an undeniable sense of joy each day by knowing how happy the kiddos were to be out in the forest exploring the beautiful trails and learning from nature. We highly recommend EHNS without reservation!”

“We love Ellis Hollow! Outdoor learning is a must in Ithaca. I loved when I took my daughter on a hike, and she could identify plants because she had learned them at school. Ellis Hollow teaches children to trust themselves, gain knowledge, teach preparedness (both to parents and children, learned by having to dress for the crazy weather of Ithaca), and a love/respect for the outdoors.”

“Our son’s big imagination was set free daily in the magical woods.”

2020-2021 EHNS Parents

“EHNS is so supportive, creative, and child-centered. Our daughter thrived at EHNS. At first she was very shy and not comfortable talking with peers or adults, but Kai and Ellie were so patient and caring that they  brought out her chatty, friendly, silly self. At first I was a little wary of the level of parent involvement, but the other parents were great, helping out was fun, and the school has a wonderful sense of community for the children and their families.”

“Our experience at EHNS has been more than magical. Ms. Kai and Ms. Ellie are amazing, attentive, adventurous teachers and we feel so lucky to have had them be a part of our children’s lives. Our kids have thrived in an outdoor environment and I wish I could send them here forever!”

EHNS Alunni Parents

“My kids loved EHNS! They spent their days exploring and creating. They learned about the seasons by watching the forest change. They learned about the trees and creeks and critters by watching, feeling, listening and being a part of it all. We are so grateful for the ways Ms. Ellie and Ms. Kai inspired their learning process and for this unique start to our children’s education.”

A Grateful EHNS Family

“Our daughter had the privilege of going to EHNS for two years. One inside and one outside. We had some trepidation the year that the school became an all outdoor program. Our daughter worried about being cold, she worried about the rain, and she wanted to be inside with the toys. We went for it anyway, we knew anything with Miss Ellie and Miss Kai at the helm would be great. Still, we couldn’t have been more amazed at our daughter’s transition. She went from dread to considering herself “an outdoorser” and loving it each day of every week. Thanks to the outdoor education at EHNS she continually impresses us with her knowledge of plants, trees, and creatures of the woods. She says winter is her favorite season and thinks nothing of gearing up and heading outdoors to play in a rainstorm.  If she had it her way she would have stayed at EHNS forever and really, it is a magical place.”

“My three-year-old loves nature school. There is nothing better than knowing she is breathing fresh air and learning about the natural world with her friends.”

EHNS Alumni Parents


Enrollment for the 2024-2025 school year will begin on March 1, 2024!

EHNS Application 2024-2025


Please feel free to reach out to our Registrar with any questions at ellishollowns@gmail.com.


EHNS enrolls children ages 3-5.  All children should be age 3 by the September 1st. Children who turn 3 by December 1st may apply, but enrollment will be determined based on the space available as of June 1st and on teacher evaluation of child readiness for the school curriculum.  Children must be toilet-trained and capable of managing their own bathroom hygiene. Entering children must have all age appropriate, required immunizations.

For 2024-2025, classes will be held from 8:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. from Monday to Thursday. Class size typically ranges from 12-16 students, with enrollment on some days less, depending on family choice.

We offer 3-day and 4-day options.


We believe strongly that all families should be able to choose a preschool program for their children, and all families should have the opportunity to choose outdoor education as a priority.  Because of this, EHNS offers a scaled tuition program, that we hope will make enrollment more attainable for all families. Tuition for the 2024-2025 monthly rates are listed below:

Family Income level (2023 Family Income) 3 days 4 days
Less than $60,000 $253 $334
from $60,000 to $120,000 $311 $393
More than $120,000 $370 $452

A $25 application fee is also required with your application. If you are offered and choose to accept a spot, the space is reserved when you return the registration paperwork and a refundable deposit equal to one month’s tuition.

Applications are accepted year-round.  Please feel free to reach out to our Registrar with any questions at ellishollowns@gmail.com.


Please find the 2024-2025 application here: EHNS Application 2024-2025

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