Have you heard of Forest Schools? This was a new term for me but when I started researching it further, I wished my kids were young again and I could put send them there!
Forest Schools are part of a growing trend to get kids out in nature. Much like nature classes, forest schools offer outdoor activities that are child-led and nature-centered.
Erin Kenny, founder of the American Forest Kindergarten association says, “Children cannot bounce off the walls if we take the walls away.” Based on principles of getting kids to be hands-on with nature, outside in all weather, and learning from curiosity and questioning, I see forest schools as something all young children can use. A year of it for sure, or perhaps mixed with a more traditional school, would engage children in both experiences.
The Forest School Association says that they offer “ALL learners regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a woodland or natural environment with trees.”
Forest Schools teach children to let their curiosity run wild, to take appropriate risks and challenges, and to develop a strong positive relationship with nature and the environment. This is just not something you can do on an iPad or in a typical classroom setting.
Forest schools are mainly for 3-6-year-olds. There are also programs such as Tinkergarten which are offered by independent leaders. They are held outside and cater to younger children as well.
Some schools such as the Waldorf School in Saratoga Springs, NY incorporate forest schooling into their regular programming, providing access to hundreds of acres of woods to explore and discover. Even regular activities such as circle time take place outside and focus on nature as a theme.F
Letting children learn to explore and discover nature in a supervised environment is something I feel all children should be doing. Sadly, not all parents can get children outside themselves as much as they’d like to, so this type of program provides a wonderful and diverse experience! Many educators and experts feel that 3 or 4 is too young to be sitting in a classroom for five days a week. While playing online games or watching educational TV shows can have its place in a child’s life if limited properly, there’s nothing like fostering a connection with our earth and letting children touch, create, and explore outdoors and learn to love nature.