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Some Thoughts Behind Forest Preschools & Kindergartens

In a forest kindergarten, most of what the children do—their quiet time, their social time, their play—is in nature. Preschool and kindergarten education is when youngsters enjoy stories and songs and poetry. It’s also when they most benefit from periods of uninterrupted free play. It’s a time for them to develop their gross motor skills by running and climbing trees and also their fine motor skills by painting and finger-knitting and playing in the mud.

Play is critical to a child’s overall development; it is like oxygen. Play gives children the space to master life skills. It also fosters brain integration and creates a networked system that will be used in problem solving and creativity.

—Deborah MacNamara, PhD, counselor, educator, and author of Rest, Play, Grow: Making Sense of Preschoolers (or Anyone Who Acts Like One)

Nature offers endless opportunities for playful learning. Children who are allowed to move freely in nature’s playground learn quickly to gauge their own abilities. They learn cause and effect in the most practical ways. They climb trees, jump over logs, run downhill, slip in the mud, navigate rocks, and constantly test their physical limits—all of which is crucial for developing balance and coordination. This kind of deep, interior learning provides a strong foundation for later academic and artistic achievement in elementary school and beyond.

The capacity to learn is greater when the child moves physically; the memory is better when more senses are activated. The more senses are activated, the deeper is the impression and thus the memory of the situation.

 

—Rikke Rosengren, director and co-founder of Bonsai, a Waldorf forest kindergarten in Denmark, from her book Child of Nature: Benefits of Nature in Childhood

With all the movement and with so many diverse sensory experiences, these children are constantly engaged, and their brains are developing continuously. It’s the observation of educators who work with forest kindergartens that learning around nature fosters happy, laughing, fulfilled, and extremely well-integrated children.

If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it. Perhaps this is what Thoreau had in mind when he said, “the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core,” and I think the same is true of human beings.

 

—David Sobel, educator and author of such books as Place-Based Education and Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens: The Handbook for Outdoor Learning

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