Forest kindergarten

Imagine being at a school where you look up and see, not a ceiling, but a canopy of leaves and branches high above you.

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Or being told you can shout all you want – just shout out into the forest. Where you can climb trees, use a saw or pocket knife to cut wood, fashion your own seesaw out of a rope and logs, and watch the lifecycle of bugs and birds in real time.

That's what it's like for children at a "forest kindergarten," where I spent a serene morning one day last week when I visited Germany. 

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The way into the forest was magical, with birds singing everywhere. The trees were high, stately, and utterly humbling. I really felt as though there is practically no better way to spend your days as a child than this. 

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I was in Europe because I got a book deal (hence the recent silence on this blog – I have been busy!) to write a book about parenting around the world. I went to Germany and also visited Finland, where I met friends, spoke with children of all ages, and was able to speak at length with many teachers. I also enjoyed the food (berries! bread! porridge!) and the beautiful Nordic summer sunlight.

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Visiting schools gave me a fresh perspective on how different children live all around the world. For instance, the primary school students I spoke with in Finland told me that they have only four hours of school on Fridays, and that they get a LOT of recess.

I enjoyed seeing the children's artwork as well. Below are a few pictures of primary school art from the schools I visited in both Germany and Finland. I love the birch tree representations below – they bring back memories of the beautiful birches I saw in Finland. 

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I took my two little girls with me on this trip, and while my schedule was really busy, we had time to take long walks.

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If you have something to share about what life is like for parents and children where you live, let me know via email or a comment – I'd really love to hear from you!

 

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20 thoughts on “Forest kindergarten

  1. CK

    My childhood experiences are from Europe, my children’s are in Australia.
    Your photo of your daughter standing next to the poppies and simple daisies brings back lots of memories… The forests also…
    I wish I could show my children what it’s like in Europe and hope to do so one day.
    We live close to the ocean. I am grateful for all the wonderful things we get to experience in our lives now.
    CK

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  2. Jennifer Margulis

    I was just checking your blog a couple days ago and I’m so glad to read this new post. Those pictures are just spectacular. I’m dying to hear more about the forest school (which means I will have to buy your book as soon as it’s available for pre-order!). We have a program here in Ashland where the kids spend all day every Friday outside at Lithia Park studying, running around, shouting, being kids. It’s part of the John Muir School, a multi-age classroom. I think it’s wonderful but I’ve also heard from parents that it some kids going into high school are at a big disadvantage since the school does not stress academics. So I guess I have a question — I am a huge fan of letting kids be kids. Can we do that, have as much outdoor time as possible, AND give them the tools they need to excel “when it matters”?

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  3. Susan

    Love those photos!!! It reminded me a bit of the high school I attended in Washington state. We didn’t spend much time outdoors during class, but the school was surrounded by giant pine trees, which you had to walk through to get to the math and science wing in back. Even just glancing out the window while the teacher was lecturing had a calming effect on me (the previous high school I attended in New Mexico had no windows and no greenery outside).

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  4. Jane Boursaw

    Oh my – what a gorgeous classroom! The best learning environment ever. And what a fantastically fun project for you, Christine. Can’t wait to read the book.

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  5. NoPotCooking

    A forest kindergarten sounds magical, like something out of a fairy tale. It sounds like you are exploring lots of wonderful things. I can’t wait to read the book!

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  6. Kris @ Attainable Sustainable

    I think the question is “when it matters.. to whom?” If the standard school system says kids must know X in order to enter high school, and the intentions are for that child to enter high school, it would be important that the right topics are covered. But what if the child is taking alternative learning to heart and plans to proceed with interest based learning? Sitting that kid down for lessons that s/he may not need seems unnecessary.
    I homeschool my kids (well, only one now – the other has graduated) and people always ask, “How do you know they’re on track?” On track for what? For whom? They are right where they need to be for *them. Why should they spend countless hours making sure they’re at the same level as their same age peers in public school? Granted, I have a different outlook than most on this topic, but I think there is just way too much emphasis on measurable success (test scores) these days. We need to raise a generation of thinking, problem solving people, now more than ever – and a rote education isn’t necessarily going to provide that.
    (Whew. I had a lot to say about that, didn’t I?)

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  7. MyKidsEatSquid

    Those are amazing photos. I lived with an Austrian family as part of a study abroad in college (I wish every student could live in another country for awhile just to see the world from another point of view). While I admired the students’ exposure to different cultures at an early age, I was surprised that kids there were pegged early on to different career paths. In America it seems like kids even go into college not knowing what they’ll do (okay, maybe not always a plus), but they have general ed courses to help broaden their understanding and help them figure out what they want to pursue. At least in Austria as I recall, it seems that in middle school kids are already placed on certain paths for their education that are difficult to change. Advantages and disadvantages to both…Can’t wait to read more about your adventures.

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  8. Casey

    I wonder if forest kindergarten would have helped me get over my unease with camping and general out-of-doors experiences – can’t hold a candle to regular old American recess, I’m sure.

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  9. sheryl

    Nice to see you back, Christine. Your trip sounds amazing, as I’m sure your book will be. What an interesting thing it is to study the different ways kids learn to be kids!

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  10. Frugal Kiwi

    How nice to spend time outside. My classroom days were certainly constrained and stuffy. Here in NZ, we live a block away from a primary school and the kids are often outside and VERY often shoeless. Completely, didn’t even wear any to school shoeless and not because they couldn’t afford any- took some getting used to, the shoeless thing.

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  11. Mira

    Hi Christine! What a wonderful book. I think it’s going to make me envious of other cultures where an outdoor setting is typical for all children. We live in San Jose, CA. We’ve been so fortunate to be a part of an outdoor nursery school. It’s called the Mountain School (or LGSONS= Los Gatos Saratoga Observation Nursery School). It’s purely play based, primarily in nature, and very hands on with real materials (ie- if you want to build a boat to float in the creek the child uses real nails, hammers, corks and wood…). For four months of the year, Sept, Oct, April, May, are spent out in the forest in the Redwoods at a creek. From Nov-March we’re in a 100 year old school house that’s tucked nicely into the edge of the woods. I wish that this were a norm for kids around here, but it’s not, it’s a private nursery school. Extensive parent involvement is required (you go one day a week with your child), and the school is a little pricey, making it not accessible for everyone. I don’t know what we’ll do come grade school. When I read about how schools are in other parts of the world, it makes me want to move before my daughter starts kindergarden. Not so practical for our family at the moment, however one can dream. I look forward to seeing your book. We absolutely LOVED Diaper Free Baby and have recommended it to so many friends. 😉

    Reply

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