Forest Kindergartens: Where Mother Nature is the Teacher in an Outdoor Classroom

by , 11/24/13

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Wouldn’t it be amazing if your youngster could spend his formative years outside exploring and learning about nature vs. being stuck inside without fresh air, exercise or a working knowledge of the environment? Depending on where you live, a nature-based school program could actually be close at hand. Forest kindergartens, also known by a slew of other terms such as nature-school, outdoor school and so forth, are schools that aim to nurture children in a healthy, often mobile environment in which little ones can experience nature firsthand for most, if not all of the day. Forest schools teach through experience. Kids are encouraged to dig in the dirt, climb trees, run wild and learn to enjoy all that nature has to offer. This is a vital learning experience for children and one that many kids are sadly missing out on. Martin Clarke, a teacher at a German forest kindergarten tells The Telegraph that kids receive more than a simple understanding of nature from these programs, but better health and coordination as well, stating, “We get four year-olds who have barely been outside and when they arrive they can hardly walk across a field, because it’s not flat, or climb a tree.’ How depressing — but hopeful as well, because once kids are enrolled in an outdoor school program, they can develop these skills quickly.

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Photo by Shutterstock

Nature-minded, outdoor school programs are popping up all over the world in areas such as GermanyEngland, the Czech Republic and more. There are about 1,000 + forest school programs in all, and their numbers are growing quickly, except in the United States. While there are at least 700 Waldkindergärten (forest nurseries) in other countries right now, you’re hard pressed to find outdoor education programs in the U.S. There are some U.S.-based outdoor schools in places you might expect like Oregon and even some in Texas, but they’re few and far between. It’s not a huge surprise that we have so few outdoor education programs stateside, as U.S. kids are thought to be some of the most nature-deprived in the world, and our school system (along with many parents) supports this problem by promoting long hours stuck inside at desks for the most part. Kids in the U.S. today are trapped in this stay-indoors mentality, and that’s too bad, because kids who have zero knowledge of nature won’t grow into adults who aim to preserve it. If you’re concerned about the lack of nature in your child’s life or if you’d like your child to be involved in a more nature-minded school program, you do have some options. Check out the links below for support and ideas.

  • If you can’t switch up your child’s school situation, consider sending your tot to a nature-minded summer camp so that at least three months out of the year your child gets to be outside.

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2 Responses to “Forest Kindergartens: Where Mother Nature is the Teacher in an Outdoor Classroom”

  1. Prairie Willow says:

    The lack of outdoor time for kids in the USA is very sad… The biggest problem is that the school systems are being pushed to “keep up” with a few other countries that tend to excel academically and they do not recognize the problems that is causing. We homeschool and arent even able to get outside as much as we need to because of trying to get through the basic daily work. I am going to try to incorporate more time as a rule because my kids Need it, even in the winter!

  2. seawallrunner says:

    There is an exceptional institution in Washington state, in the American NorthWest, called North Cascades Institute. It offers a Mountain School for children, during the warmer months of the school year. Montain School is available to public, private and home school groups.

    North Cascades Institute also offers programs for adults. I have attended more than 20 of its programs (I live in Canada) and I highly highly recommend this wonderful organization.

    Mountain School is a nationally recognized environmental education program offered by North Cascades Institute in cooperation with North Cascades National Park. Mountain School students come to the North Cascades with their school class, teacher and chaperones to learn about the ecosystems, geology and natural and cultural history of the mountains. Mountain School gives young people an experience they will remember forever.

    North Cascades Institute seeks to inspire closer relationships with nature through direct experiences in the natural world. Its mission is to conserve and restore Northwest environments through education. Since 1986, NCI helped connect people, nature and community through science, art, literature and the hands-on study of the natural and cultural history of the Pacific Northwest. Its goal is to help people of all ages experience and enjoy the mountains, rivers, forests, people and wildlife of the Pacific Northwest – so all will care for and protect this special place.

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