Kindergarten was one of the most fun school years of my life. I was enrolled into Doyon School in Ipswich when I was six years old. It was a typical classroom setting for me: fun toys to play with, crayons or colored pencils for coloring activities, watching kids trade lunches with each other during lunchtime, and a 15-minute recess session outside on the playground.
Recess was something I always looked forward to as a kid. Having that pleasure of spending time outdoors and away from the small, dingy classroom was a blessing to me. I usually played games with my friends or went swinging on the swings near the playground. Looking back at my early years, being outdoors was something I always cherished in life. To think that some schools don’t even allow recess time just boggles my mind!
One great thing about elementary school was taking field trips outside of the classroom during science class. I couldn’t really understand how life worked until I stepped outside of the school and into the forests to experience nature. Nature was something you had to see first-hand, not through pictures on a slideshow. Some schools have even taken the concept of outdoor nature learning one step further. That was when I stumbled onto a unique concept called forest kindergarten, which was the English term for Waldenkindergarten.
Forest Kindergarten is special program that is held for children up to the age of six years old. It is a preschool education that takes place outdoors for more than half of the day. The concept is about encouraging children to play, learn, and explore in a forest or some form of natural environment. This unique educational idea can be described as a kindergarten without any ceiling or walls put in place.
Waldenkindergarten was initiated in Germany by a man named Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel. During the 18th century, Friedrich developed a passion for plants and herbs while growing up in the forests. He was increasingly interested in early education and was convinced that play was crucial for a child’s development. By 1840 he coined the term kindergarten, which was known as children’s garden. Unfortunately, the concept transformed into something similar to traditional schooling where children spend more times indoors.
It wasn’t until 1952 where a mother in Denmark named Ella Flautau decided to apply Friedrich’s core message to create an interesting classroom for the children. This concept quickly caught on with her children and eventually spread around Denmark and Scandinavia. Denmark now has between 200-300 forest kindergartens in the country.
The forest kindergarten classrooms eventually reached the United States, with the first school opening on Vashon Island called Cedarsong Nature School. Cedarsong Nature School was founded by naturalists and child educators Robin Rogers and Erin Kenny. After first opening its doors in 2006, the school received overwhelmingly positive reviews from parents. It became so popular that parents were put on the waitlist.
I randomly stumbled on this concept a few nights ago and thought this was a fascinating idea! A whole classroom dedicated to teaching kids outside to be with nature. Whether it is in a beach or forests, children are really getting their taste of nature at such an early nature. Learning about science while on various field trips was a popular concept at my school, but forest kindergartens really go the extra mile. I have always grown up in the small town of Ipswich most of my life and I could not imagine living away from a clean environment!
This German concept needs to extend all across the United States to really provide the taste of nature to children everywhere. We seem to take our environment for granted these days, sending our kids into dull classrooms with cement walls and mundane ceilings. How is it that some elementary schools don’t even require any recess time? Going on adventures and learning about the world around us is all part of growing up as a human being, so why do we continue to throw that concept in the garbage? We toss aside these important activities just like we leave empty cigarette butts out onto the beach while we expect nature to take its course. This is something we should continue to explore in the years to come. Maybe the answer to rebuilding our current education system lies within nature, not standardized testing in monotonous classrooms.