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!