a few readers asked me to write about “what is forest kindergarten?” and about “forest kindergarten equipment”. well, actually i didn’t want to write about it now. first, because we are “the new ones” in forest kindergarten and i think it takes a while to come out with founded information about it and also a reflected feedback of what we treasure most about it and of what we see a bit critical. and second, i thought it would make more sense to write about forest kindergarten equipment in the winter or next spring, after we actually tested our clothes in the colder ‘minus degree’ and in the wettest season.but since some of you are looking for some information now, in the fall, i’ll give you sort of an overlook with this post of what forest kindergarten is and how forest kindergarten life looks like in our case.there will be a second post coming soon about our personal equipment and their sources.
what is forest kindergarten?
to answer that question it would take me months to describe it. also because there are different concepts of forest kindergartens/Waldkindergärten in germany. so i can only write about the forest kindergarten our daughters go to. before i describe it a bit more, i thought it would be good to start with the beginning. the beginning of forest kindergartens in germany and how these have to do with Froebel and Denmark.
The Telegraph: Harry de Quetteville, 12:01AM BST 18 Oct 2008
Growing up at the end of the 18th century in the forests of what is now central Germany, Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel developed a passion for plants and herbs, eventually apprenticing himself to a forester. He studied mathematics and botany, became a tutor to the rich, and increasingly interested in the education of children. Convinced that play was not only constructive but also crucial to a child’s development, he opened an activity centre in 1837 in the town of Bad Blankenburg. Inside its walls, toddlers developed their motor skills with building blocks and patterned toys that he invented. But Froebel was determined that the children spend, like he did, as much time as possible outside – singing, dancing and gardening and exploring.
By 1840, perhaps tired of his little academy’s unwieldy official title – Pflege-, Spiel- und Beschäftigungsanstalt, or Care, Play and Activity Centre – he came up with a new name: Kindergarten, or children’s garden. Within a century, however, his ‘garden’ concept had evolved into something more like traditional schooling, with children spending more and more time indoors. Froebel’s idea was eventually reinvented in Denmark: in 1952, a mother named Ella Flautau decided to apply his core message to her own children. The concept quickly caught on with her neighbours, and spread throughout the country and Scandinavia. There are now between 200 and 300 forest kindergartens in Denmark, out of a total of 3,800 nurseries.
In Germany though, it took until the late 1980s for Froebel’s idea to come home and for the first Waldkindergarten to receive official blessing. Just south of the border with Denmark, in the town of Flensburg, a group of parents founded their own Waldkindergarten association in 1991.
so here we see, that forest kindergarten have started in denmark, in scandinavia. they are really big and popular now in germany too and are growing like mushrooms out of the woods.
forest kindergarten: “… is a type of preschool education for children between the ages of three and six that is held almost exclusively outdoors. Whatever the weather, children are encouraged to play, explore and learn in a forest or natural environment. The adult supervision is meant to assist rather than lead. It is also known as Waldkindergarten (in German), outdoor nursery, nature kindergarten, or nature preschool…” says wikipedia.
the forest kindergarten our daughters attend, is more like a mountain forest kindergarten, because the kids (one big group of 3-6 year olds with 3-4 fulltime kindergarten teachers) have to “hike up” a little mountain, spoken from the view of children. they even installed ropes for them to hold on to while hiking up certain parts. each week 2 mountain guides (an older and a younger child) are responsible to lead the rest of the group up and down the little mountain and through the woods. they have different places where they can go and play. the terrain is different and the decision where to go also depends on the weather, ’cause some spots are sunnier or more protected than others. to go up to the main place where they have 2 little construction trailers (one where the kids can get changed and where changing clothes are stored and one where the kids can sit on little benches on little tables when its too cold and rainy outside and where they can warm up a bit because there’s a little stove inside) a tepee for the kids to play in and a big awning that also serves as a good protection, the rootchildren walk on little paths through the woods. they even cross a little stream. the terrain is pretty challenging compared to other forest kindergartens i have seen in city areas. the terrain also influences the age of children when entering forest kindergarten. forest kindergartens that are in the woods, but with less challenging hike ups and downs, children might be younger. the terrain at our forest kindergarten also requires good hiking boots or shoes with a good profile. rainboots often are too slippery. but more about equipment in the following post. all in all i can say that the goal and the experience show, that the forest kindergarten children are outside almost all days all year long. rain and snow and cold is no reason to ´hide inside the construction trailer’.
in may, june and july this year i helped out at the forest kindergarden once a week. of course i took along the girls and so that way they already had a smooth settling in. i got to know all the places and paths, the rythms, the methods of the kindergarten, the children, the forest kindergarten rules and so on. i’m really thankful about it, ’cause now when the girls tell me where they have been, which place in the woods and with whom they have played, its easier for me to follow their stories and to emphatize with them. my big concern toward one big familygroup disolved a bit when i helped out and worked there seeing the benefits of a group with children of all ages. seeing and witnessing that all of those 3-6 year olds are able to carve with real and sharp carving tools, can saw with little saws, can smooth down differences with their own called and responsible “peacemakers”, do creative crafts with nature materials, have so much knowledge about trees and animals in the woods, know which plant to look for when falling into stinging nettles, somehow still find joy and ideas what to do even after 2 years of going there. the older ones are proud to take along the younger ones and to show them ‘how it works’. of course there were also some older ones that didn’t want to to play or include the younger ones. but the forest kindergarten team encourages this by different actions (the young and new ones sort of get a mentor, the mountainguides that lead the group up and down the little mountain are a young and an old child,…) i also witnessed how some kids had a harder time of being involved in the group, or of finding something to play with. i witnessed accidents, that in my eyes are important and part of it as well (falling from a tree). but no, all in all, i loved what i’ve seen and i was still convinced that this is the most perfect place for our daughters we can get. i could fill that whole space here writing about my fascination and confidence of why i so adore the concept of forest kindergarten. also because i already see its fruits when being/moving outdoors with the girls now in the woods, in the mountains, on the fields. don’t get me wrong. we’ve been outside all the time and i was already fascinated by their exploration, imaginary play and ciriousity. but now, now it really moved to a different level. the girls get into playing so much easier when we walk through our little woods. they are full of ideas and just do what they do in forest kindergarten. their endurance is much higher to stick with a role play e.g. or to built a fortress. their ciriousity to explore has become bigger.they now don’t like to go on the normal little paths through the woods. no, they look for the challenges and the unknown paths. they have become braver and selfconfident in so many ways. and they teach me new things, like which grass is good for braiding or how to really put buckhorn on the stinging nettle body location. i’m so looking forward to learn more of them and to see them bloom even more.