For most children under the age of 5, there is no such thing as “bad” weather. There is only bad clothing. — Frances Krusekopf
This is a bit of an unusual edition of Saturday’s Around the World here on EWC. We’re going on a little journey back to somewhere we’ve all been: the wonder of a mudpuddle, an overlooked drainage ditch, the freedom of rolling down a hill, or maybe, a climb up a tree.
In a world where it’s become normal for children to be shuffled inside to learn, these classrooms are doing the opposite. Welcome to Forest Kindergarten.
In the past decade, parents have been actively guiding their kids to stay indoors to avoid danger and discomfort more than ever. In fact, a 2009 study in the UK found that over 40% of the parents don’t believe that children, age 14 and younger, should be outside unsupervised. 1
And before we can truly appreciate the unorthodox concept we’re sharing in this article, we have to look at a few more statistics.
The amount of time that children are spending outside is decreasing. Just take a look at this snippet from Child In the City’s great article on the subject:
“The National Trust research showed that children are playing outside for an average of just over four hours a week. This compares unfavorably with 8.2 hours for their parents when they were children. But it’s not just a UK phenomenon. A recent study by the Seattle Children’s Research Institute appearing in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine discovered that almost 50% of preschoolers lacked even one parent-supervised outdoor play session per day. On average, children aged 10 to 16 now spend only 12.6 minutes a day on vigorous outdoor activity compared with 10.4 waking hours being relatively motionless.” 2
Wow! 12 minutes outdoors each day and 10 hours sitting motionless. Seems like that’s going to mean a lot less catching of fireflies, playing pick-up soccer games, and constructing snow forts and sand castles.
How many memories from childhood would be lost if the sense of adventure inherent in outdoor activities was missing in our early lives? I don’t know many “indoor” places (homes, study halls, church basements) that are very interesting and enriching. Maybe that’s why we have the problem with too much screen time? It’s better than being stuck indoors!
But have no fear, change is on the way!
There’s a brilliant movement afoot to counter all that fear parents have of their children on the loose outside and the screen time that results. A growing number of children in communities located in northern Europe (and even North America) now have access to an ingenious way to create life-long learners. It’s called “Forest Kindergarten“, and makes a whole lot of sense.
I could never do the concept justice in my description, so have a look at this delightful and game-changing video brought to us by SBS Dateline!
So they’ve got little ones climbing into trees 30 feet in the air, fashioning their own pointed sticks, and running in icy, muddy water. And the only trip to the emergency room they’ve had in 17 years was when a parent ran over a kid’s foot!
Perhaps if we can get our heads around having cold, wet, but very happy children, we might be able to put our educational system on a new path.
Did you catch that point about how this kind of “intro to life” makes for more curious and courageous learners?
That’s almost the polar opposite of our current system for encouraging kids to settle for “making the grade”. The Forest Kindergartens appear to be very good at teaching children to be interested in learning. That could be a game-changer in education worldwide.
Here’s PBS NewsHour with a very interesting short piece on how this concept is taking shape in North America:
So, I’m beginning to think there are two over-arching themes to this kind of start in education:
- 1) Amping up children’s natural curiosity
- 2) Taking the fear out of the equation and replacing it with respect. (Teaching kids to consider wisely.)
Sounds like a recipe for success to me!
Did you notice how the teachers and students all seemed to be articulating a delightful brand of joyful appreciation for all their discoveries and experimentation?
Maybe, if the foundation of learning was to encourage a sense of “wonder”, we would all be more excited about our years of education. Then maybe, it’d only be natural for kids to feel more gratitude in their daily lives, even when those days are a struggle.
Gratitude may be an element of learning that is sorely missing these days too! There’s so much power just in noting what we’re grateful for each day. If that seems like an unrelated or “squishy” connection to today’s topic, have a look at the amazing video in the article below. Turns out, gratitude can become a powerful, positive, personal tool in young lives.
More Curious Middle and High Schoolers
Perhaps there’s a way to take that curiosity and continue connecting the classroom to all the remarkable things happening in the world.
In fact, we’ve recently launched a version of EWC for the classroom, grades 6 to 12, to do just that. For a little intro to EWCed, take a look at this article:
Lovely sentiments here today.
What would a world look like where the ladder of learning environments was filled with self-discovery and open questions? What would happen if possibilities seemed limitless for our children? I suspect it would look like some version of Forest Kindergarten. With bigger, more engaged kids who felt empowered to create their own futures.
Stay open, curious and hopeful!
~ Dr. Lynda
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- http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/file/5495287317528576 ↩
- Kennedy, Rebecca. “Children Spend Half the Time Playing Outside in Comparison to Their Parents.” Child in the City, Child in the City, 15 Jan. 2018, www.childinthecity.org/2018/01/15/children-spend-half-the-time-playing-outside-in-comparison-to-their-parents/. Accessed 7 Sept. 2018. ↩
- “Kids Gone Wild: Denmark’s Forest Kindergartens.” YouTube, SBS Dateline, 23 Feb. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jkiij9dJfcw. Accessed 7 Sept. 2018. ↩
- “B Is for Bug When Preschoolers Make Nature Their Classroom.” YouTube, PBS NewsHour, 15 Aug. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKOfXnteqdc. Accessed 7 Sept. 2018. ↩