How life can change by happenstance.
Kristin Hammer was pursuing an undergraduate degree in biology. In the summers, she took jobs over several years banding birds in South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia and California.
Children’s summer camps would sometimes drop by the ornithology lab near Big Sur where she was working.
“No one was excited about doing the tours,” she said. “I really enjoyed it. That’s when I realized I enjoyed teaching.”
Hammer went on to earn a master’s degree in education with an emphasis in environmental education. She began working at the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, Illinois.
“I would give tours,” she said. “It was the preschool age that I absolutely loved and knew I wanted to do an outdoor preschool with someday.”
Someday was the key word. She didn’t know how she could make that happen.
The answer began to take shape after a move she and her family made eight years ago from Illinois to Mukilteo.
“Once we moved to Washington, I was in awe of the beauty here,” she said. Yet as the mother of what was then a 3-year-old son herself, she was struck by what was missing.
“I would go to parks and say, ‘Where are all the families?’”
Two years ago, Hammer began offering parent-child classes at Mukilteo’s 92nd Street Park for kids 2 to 6 years old. “I did that to get parents excited about being outdoors with their kids,” she said.
That experience led to realizing her dream of establishing her own preschool for 3- to 5-year-olds. It launched last fall with 10 kids and two teachers per class.
It isn’t your typical preschool. This is a class where it’s OK for kids to get a little muddy or scramble around in the woods.
The classes are held in Japanese Gulch, where they learn about the creatures that live there — hearing woodpeckers drilling their homes in trees and watching tadpoles transform from thumbnail-sized ovals with tails into frogs.
Four-year-old Aiden Carli attends twice a week. He likes telling his dad, Bryan Carli, about the animals and plants they find.
“That’s what he gets excited about — mushrooms and tadpoles and the different birds they’ve identified,” his dad said. “We wanted him to get outdoors and have hands-on playtime. I think nature is an amazing way to learn.”
Heather Seguine said her son Emmett, 4, has started calling Japanese Gulch “my forest.”
“It’s so neat to see all his energy and excitement go into learning about the world around him,” she said. “We saw something growing on a tree and he said, ‘That’s lichen!’ He’s learning so much.”
Heidi Hagens said her son, Sawyer, 4, always enjoys the class, rain or shine. “He’s just become so much more observant when we go on walks together,” she said, pointing out woodpecker holes or mushrooms along the path.
Even as her classes were filling up, Hammer, 41, still wanted to add one more thing — a shop where children could come for nature-related story times and where adults could learn from an artist about nature sketching.
The 950-square-foot store called Nature Together opened on March 2. “We have something for every age, from babies to adults,” Hammer said. “We’re trying to get people excited about the outdoors.”
More things are planned. A therapy dog is scheduled to come to the store for story time the first Monday of every month.
She hopes to start a program where seniors work with the preschoolers in her classes, taking hikes with them at Japanese Gulch, reading to them or eating lunch with them.
And the first of what she hopes will be an ongoing series of book signings is scheduled for June, with a book illustrated by Everett watercolor artist Elizabeth Person.
Hammer said she cried tears of joy the day the store opened, reflecting on what had begun with a random thought, a hunch, a wish, 14 years before. “I had dreamed of having my own store for years,” she said.
“When I think about how this all unfolded, every experience I’ve had built upon what I’ve created today.”
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
Nature Together, 619 Fourth St., Suite C, Mukilteo, sells nature books, clothing, toys, jewelry, home and lifestyle accessories. Gear includes rain boots and rain suits for kids and sweatshirts and T-shirts for adults. The store also offers sketch classes for adults and nature-themed story times, outdoor classes and birthday parties for kids ages 2 to 6.
Store hours in May are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Closed Tuesday. Hours increase next month for the summer.
Call 425-322-4747 or go to www.explorenaturetogether.com.