I have written about my fascination with the forest kindergarten/farm school movement in back posts with detailed links. I recently found this link interviewing Erin Kenny, founder of Cedarsong Forest Kindergarten. You can read that interview here: http://www.safbaby.com/forest-kindergarten-a-better-way-to-teach-our-young-children.
I think the models we have for this movement within Waldorf Education are places such as Nokken with Helle Heckmann (please see back posts on Nokken on this blog and also this link regarding farm-based educator inspired by Waldorf Education: https://www.biodynamics.com/farm-based-educators).
The major benefits of Forest School, as listed in the book, “Forest School and Outdoor Learning in the Early Years” by Sara Knight are increased confidence and self-belief; social skills with increased awareness of the consequence of their actions on other people, peers and adults and the ability to work cooperatively; more sophisticated written and spoken language; increased motivation and concentration; improved stamina and gross and fine motor skills; increased respect for the environment and increased observational skills; ability to have new perspectives and form positive relationships with others; a ripple effect to the family.
I have been thinking lately that in light of the amount of school violence we are seeing in the United States , it is my proposition that converting preschools in the United States to a play-based program based in nature prior to academics in the first grade would have a profound impact on the levels of violence in our society. It would set the basis for conflict resolution, respect and wonder for natural life and cooperative work that is currently being left behind in a rush to keep tiny children at desks learning reading and writing (that has no proved benefits to enhance academic performance in the middle school years). But that is another subject altogether! But just a reminder that the early years matter!
I think it is doable to re-create the forest or farm education experience if you homeschool. This presupposes several things however: an attitude toward being outside in all kinds of weather and nature; a knowledge of the natural flora, fauna and weather patterns in your area; if you are Waldorf homeschooling I think a knowledge of the pedagogical flow of the early years – including rhythm, pedagogical stories, facilitating play as needed is especially important. Waldorf Education adds a layer of development, I believe, to this forest and farm school movement.
If you have solely children ages 7 and under, you could have a forest kindergarten by pledging to hold your “school time” outside every day in the same forest or farm (or beach! or desert!) patch of land and hold a rhythm within this space. If you have mixed ages, you could plan a day for your kindergartner that is just for him or her out in the forest or farm, or you could plan half-days. Either way, consistency over a period of weeks is important.
My suggestions in this endeavor are:
- Increase your own training regarding your local natural world. What flora and fauna are around you? Why do the animals behave as they do? How did the Native/First Peoples of your area live and why?
- Take advantage of your government-owned parks. In the United States, we have a state park system and a national park system that is a wealth of knowledge. You could create an entire school year based off your parks.
- If you have a farm setting, do look at the links associated with the link I gave above for farm-based education. A farm setting or biodynamic gardening setting is lovely for younger children because there is a rhythm built into a farm with the cycles of the animals and crops; it is lovely for older children because there is a built in layering of responsibility in terms of getting to be old enough and responsible enough to do farm tasks.
- If you have small children and are looking at a forest setting, think of the following activities: games about safety, stories and songs, how to establish a base/shelter, look for animal homes, find sticks, look for landmarks, circle time, create musical instruments, look for tracks, weave, tree hugging and rubbing of bark, create snack (peeling potatoes for cooking in a small fire could be great fun!)
Please add your suggestions, experiences and resources below!
This is so sweet! I have been really itching to do this now that we’ve moved to a farm – and felt like homeschooling inside and farming outside was taking up all the time – it was hard to make time for the Waldorf K stuff. THEN i realized, hey, she is with me all the time, milking goats, gathering eggs, watching the ducks as they waddle around and gargle in every pond… Forest School or Farmschooling is a lot like what everyday life is like for us now. So maybe i can calm down a little about our nature journals or being deliberate about time outside, because it is happening organically, and so much more than i could have planned for 🙂
Exactly. The rhythm of the farm is the rhythm of life. Try to make some time for fine motor skills in preparation for first grade, sing while you work, and tell a story. You can always have a session of drawing and modeling in there as well. School is done!
My parent and child group Mighty Oaks is now run entirely outside, here in the woods where we live in north Norfolk, England. We have 13 families, with children aged from birth to 8 – some are also homeschooling.
I am happy to share any of our experience with your readers. Our website details exactly what happens in our group sessions : http:// http://www.mightyoaksgroup.org and our Facebook page has some lovely pictures which show how wonderful it can be! https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mighty-Oaks-Parent-and-Child-Group/187801198090826
Truly, I feel blessed on a Friday morning to see our woodland anew through the children’s eyes, and my daughters love having 18 friends over to explore with!
Two other advantages to running a group outside… Never having to wash the floor, rarely having to bring the energy levels ‘down’… the woods absorb it all!
Red… You know how much I adore you and your family and this is mighty stuff! So wonderful!
Thank you SO much for sharing your work as I know it will be of a great help to many over here where some states have MANY forest kindergartens and some states have few!
Carrie you are our inspiration!
So much of what you write here goes out to all the Mamas in our group, and beyond. Thank YOU!!
I also wanted to add, for anyone considering setting up a group, who may be wondering how to manage it with their own small children – our weekly group provides a wonderful focus for our entire week’s activities. My eldest daughter (aged 5 and three quarters) and I plan and prepare all the craft projects and circle time during the other days. We make up songs together on our morning walks with my youngest daughter (almost 2) – she loves to join in!
The day before, we spend the entire day tidying, cleaning, cutting grass, setting out the long dining table outside, clearing away anything extraneous. We walk our woodland walk route all through the week, checking, snipping, twining branches, removing hazards.
So when it comes to Friday morning, we rise early and bake fresh bread, and then the group is really a continuation of everything else we have already been doing – and also a chance to put it all in action and be social with all our friends.
I sometimes wonder, with all the week’s usual trials and tribulations, and moments of me losing my cool, how can I dare to put myself out there as this exemplar!
But for those two and a quarter hours on a Friday, at LEAST – I CAN actually manage to BE that serene, calm, grounded, presence!
So it is profoundly useful to me and my personal development, to have the weekly practise of being ‘at my best’. Now if I can just manage to extend that further throughout the rest of the week….
Thankfully, I have this absolute wealth of wisdom and support here in your site to help me with that. Hurrah!
I am going to come and be a student in your program! It sounds lovely, lovely, lovely!
I have enjoyed reading these post about the Forest Kindergarten. Ironically, I recently learned of a Forest Kindergarten program around where I live. I am considering enrolling my son who will be 4.5 in the fall when the program would start. I only plan on having him do it one day a week for 3 hours. My debate has been whether or not he is ready to be away from me yet though. The “school” also will be offering a similar class for homeschoolers so my older boys who will be 11 and 8 in the fall, will do that at the same time (but not the same class). http://www.merrohawke.org/school-year-programs/forest-kindergarten/
The parents who started the school just started homeschooling their boys as well so I imagine it is
“homeschool” friendly! It is my dream to have a small farm one day, unfortunately not my husband’s 🙂
I understand that last bit, LOL.
Many blessings and hope it goes well,
While I don’t disagree with your assertion that a play-based preschool would be helpful for some of the ills in society, I can’t help but go back to “Hold Onto Your Kids” (Mate & Newfeld). Each time I hear of a school shooting involving a young person who has been bullied, and usually they have been, I think of the idea of peer-attachment. As I recall from the book, our children (generally speaking) are attaching to each other rather than to their parents or another loving caregiver. And, the rejection from their peers is likened to a rejection from their parents. There is no focus on this in society, as we don’t want to make their parents feel guilty for thrusting them into the care of adults who don’t actually attach to (and LOVE) them.
Honestly, even from a playground perspective, I see stay-at-home parents more interested in what their phones and Facebook have to say or planning their “GNO” than the treasures their children want to show them. So it isn’t even just about daycare, but about attaching, period.
I am not trying to judge others, as I am guilty of it, as well. So guilty of it, that I deleted my Facebook account three years ago (and what a relief, I tell you). But, until our society can be honest and admit that we have an internet/phone addiction, that isn’t likely to change.
Just another idea….thought I do love the forest/farm education movement.
I agree with you 100 percent. I guess when I was writing that part I was thinking more of children who are in the mainstream educational system. It will take such a HUGE shift in our society for stay at home parenting to be a priority, and THEN to have stay at home parenting be present without relying on screens as a babysitter for the children or for our own minds…I think that will be so difficult and I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, but I don’t know as that is going to happen in my lifetime.
However, you will notice the thrust of this post is about Homeschooling the forest/farm movement. Attachment is key, especially for older children.
I love your points.
thanks for the inspiration! we are farmers, and i feel like i’m still figuring out how to integrate the kids with the actual farm work. since we’re not homesteaders but actual organic farmers who make their living doing this work, the pace of the work is fast and it hasn’t up until now felt super reasonable (or safe!) to have the kids just tagging along. we’ve made it work for me to be a “stay at home mom” on the farm (i still do all the paperwork for the farm too of course!). but as they get older (they’re 21 mo and 4.5 yrs now), i do want to integrate them more into our farm work in a real way. i think my husband and i just need to continue setting goals and being intentional so that we do this in a way that feels good all around (i.e. enriching, fun and safe for the kids and still allows us to run our farm professionally!). as i look ahead to their more “formal” waldorf homeschooling years, i also smile at things like a “farming block” and wonder whether we should just skip that or use it as an awesome opportunity to take some real intentional time with the kids on the farm. like learning to use new mechanical tools or something. my husband said, “tractor time!” we’ll see! it’s hard to imagine my kids old enough to operate a tractor, but they grow so fast! : )
I have heard from other farming parents about Third Grade…they feel it is a hard year because they already do so much of the “hands on” that third grade expands into. I would probably lean toward making it more about Native Americans and the Old Testament if I was the parent, but as you pointed out, it can also be a great time to point out all the subtleties too. I think just things like letting the children see the farm as one organism made up of all the rhythms of the different animals and crop cycles that the farmer stands as the intermediary could be valuable as well.