How It Comes Together
Banyan Forest Kindergarten has three outdoor sites—our welcome area and three additional base camps for instruction—on the School on the Rise’s beautiful, wooded campus. Each day we will be in one of these three sites as our base camp for that day. The base camp will serve as the center for our school day. It will support our group’s quiet times and will provide a snug space at any point when a child wants that.
The base camp will hold the equipment needed for that day’s activities. Often a campfire will be going, with water heating for tea. At the beginning of each day, the teacher will walk the students around the “boundaries” for that day, putting in place colorful wooden markers that indicate precisely how far from the base camp the children may roam. No one is to go past the markers unless they’re accompanied by a teacher. The markers make this rule—and the day’s borders—easy to remember.
Some of the activities we’ll enjoy regularly include gardening, drawing, painting with watercolors, woodworking, beeswax modeling, finger-knitting, singing, and listening to stories. Every day, there will be ample time for free play and exploration.
There is also a classroom in the schoolhouse reserved for Banyan students. We will, however, spend most of our day outdoors., This means we’ll be outside in all kinds of weather.
And this, of course, raises some questions.
What happens when it rains? Or it’s very hot?
The premise behind forest kindergartens is that children are happiest when they’re close to Nature—and this includes her glorious extremes. Experiencing the heat and the cold, the rain and the wind is important in this learning process. These children will be learning how to be with Nature safely and intelligently. They’ll be learning how to live in the elements.
Does this take special clothing and gear?
Yes, clearly it does. Just as hiking requires some special clothes and gear, spending most of the day outside does as well. For parents, this may require an investment—especially since your child is still growing! In the application process, you can request a list of the clothing and gear the school recommends that each student have. Fortunately, most of these items are inexpensive and easily found, and it will be possible for some parents to locate hand-me-downs.
What are the days and hours?
The Banyan Forest Kindergarten is in session 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Children can be dropped off between 8:30 and 9:00 a.m. and picked up between 3:00 and 3:30 p.m.
Can I visit my child in this “outdoor” school?
Because of the restrictions required to safeguard against Covid-19, we will not always be able to welcome visitors to the kindergarten. Usually, we would welcome any parent onto the campus at any time—and even encourage you to stay with us for the first few days of your child’s attendance. That way you can experience what it means to be outdoors for the day! Because we want to stay abreast of the latest pandemic guidelines, we ask that you contact the teacher to let her know when you would like to come to campus. She will make the proper arrangements so that can happen.
What about food and water?
Each day the student will bring their own compact cooler with water, lunch, and two healthy snacks. Fresh, filtered water will always be available to replenish the student’s water bottle. There will be scheduled snack and lunch times. Each child must bring sufficient quantities of healthy, low sugar, food for a morning snack, lunch, and an afternoon snack.
In conjunction with the School on the Rise, we will compost all food scraps and recycle any trash. We ask that parents send all food in reusable containers. Single-serving, prepackaged food containers and bags may seem convenient, but they produce more trash than is felicitous. In the long run, reusable containers are much more convenient!
Stings, bites, and scrapes?
Central Texas offers an impressive array of flora and fauna that defend themselves with stings and spikes, with bites and venom of various strengths. Part of the lesson plan is to teach children to recognize these plants and animals and how to respectfully avoid them. The teacher will have an insect repellant to apply as needed—or parents can provide another for their own child—and there are well-stocked first aid kits for that day’s base camp and in the schoolhouse.
We will have access to the recently constructed Forest Privy—a tiny, clean, light-filled house in the woods with a state-of-the-art composting toilet. The children will be taught the use of this eco-friendly toilet and will learn as well the value of composting—how, for instance, compost is processed and used to nourish the soil.
About Monica Martinez
Monica Martinez’s interest in finding pathways for healthy child development was sparked more than two decades ago by the birth of her two sons. The joy she experienced being with children and her keen interest in supporting their learning inspired her to train and become certified as a Waldorf early childhood teacher and in RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers), which follows the methodology of the groundbreaking Emmi Pikler. In her training, Monica perceived the importance of rhythm in the life of a child, especially when it’s with an adult who is a worthy role model.
In 1998, Monica opened a Waldorf kindergarten in Guadalajara, Mexico, where she was living at the time. The following year, in Cuernavaca, she opened her first Waldorf inspired kindergarten with an outdoor education approach to learning.
Beginning in 2012, Monica co-directed a Waldorf inspired preschool/kindergarten program for seven years in Mexico City, where she was in charge of the adult education program, both training and mentoring teachers in forms of instruction. In addition, over the years, she has given a number of workshops on early childhood development for parents and educators.
In her professional and personal journey with children, Monica has seen the benefits of assisting the very young to learn in the beneficent setting of the natural world. As the founder of Banyan Forest Kindergarten, Monica invites young students and their parents to walk with her along the “forest” path toward a new way.
As a symbol for her school, she took the image of the massive banyan—a sacred tree whose aerial roots give it phenomenal stability and a breadth that allows it to offer universal shelter.