Many parents are beginning to realize that the structured academics of traditional classrooms are not as beneficial to their children’s’ education as other styles of learning. Rather a strong connection with the natural world can enhance and improve our learning in the classroom.
Hence, the invention of Forest schools has given children the opportunity for just that—kids learn in classrooms, but also have a great exposure to exploration and freedom by having recess session in forests and other natural areas. Children play outside, rain or shine, with little supervision. The idea is that the children are allowed to connect with the natural world because their brains will automatically use their literary and math skills in the way that they interact with the real world as well. The teachers are allowed to bring their students to meadows, creeks, mountains, forests, and shorelines.
This may sound like a new concept for American schools, and it is. But it has been around for years in other countries such as Germany, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, and South Korea. Teaching and lessons are done by personal experience with the environment; for example, teacher Nihal Öz of the Waldkindergarten in Germany tells a story of a little boy who wanted to know what would happen if he stood in the fire. He ran up to the teacher and said “Look, my feet did not burn!” From this, the teachers use this moment as a lesson by gathering all the kids around the fire, and teaching them about how fire works. Thorston Reinecke, another teacher, commented on the lesser amount of supervision that the children receive, but how it is beneficial to them: “maybe I don’t have that much control and I can’t always see them, but I know where they are. Not being there all the time allows them to assess risks better.”
When the world is your classroom, there is no end to the amount of learning that you can have just from personal experience and from picking up on the way that the world around you works. A stronger sense of the world can make a child more confident in itself and prepare them to use that confidence in the classroom later on.
Now, Waldkindergartens, or Forest schools, are popping up all over the United States. The first Forest School opened up in Portland, Oregon in 2007. There are several new Forest schools sprouting up in California as well, and there are enough schools involved that they are able to have formal meetings of all the supervisors of the Forest schools.
There is a growing amount of technology in our lives, but there will always be a vast amount of nature and earth to explore as well. Respecting both spheres of the world we live in are the first beginning steps to knowing more and learning more about our world, and creating stronger students in the classroom.