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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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Nature-minded, outdoor school programs are popping up all over the world in areas such as Germany, England, 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.
- Consider an alternative school program for your child. Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, Montessori and even some charter schools all focus on outdoor time and nature activities much more than public schools.
- Really think outside the box and consider homeschooling or unschooling or see if you can locate a free school focused on the environment and nature.
- Improve the public school your child is in. Schools aren’t immersing kids in nature because frankly, parents aren’t stepping up to complain or change the system. It takes A LOT of work to change a public school, but it can be done. Even small changes like starting a school garden or organizing nature-minded field trips can make a huge difference.
- 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.