The New York Times on Monday carried an article about a “forest kindergarten” in Saratoga Springs, New York. The new program, which started in September and has enrolled 23 children between the ages of 3 1/2 and 6, emphasizes outdoor play. The children spend the bulk of their school days in a woodland park that the state has leased to their school, the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs. The school also leases a farmhouse in the wooded property with a kitchen, dining area, and play space, but the children's main classroom has no walls and only sky for a roof. On the day that the Times reporter and photographer joined the class, the children played in a steady rain, apparently with undiminished pleasure.
Forest kindergartens began in Denmark in the 1950s and have steadily grown in popularity in northern Europe. Studies of children who attend Germany’s 450 Waldkindergartens point to benefits in better concentration, less aggression, and fewer illnesses. When children from these forest kindergartens go to primary school, teachers observe that they perform better in reading, writing, mathematics, and social interactions, compared to other students.
Waldorf schools, which have their roots in Europe, share a strong belief in the importance of outdoor play and in the connection between imagination, perseverance, and curiosity and the type of free play that was on display the other day in the Saratoga woods.
Our country has been selective in looking to Europe for its educational ideas, but this is one idea I’d like to see take hold. It adds to a growing body of evidence that the great outdoors helps make great kids.
A 2006 article from The Guardian (UK) about the Secret Garden nursery school in Scotland.
“Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.
Labels: forest kindergarten, Kristen Laine, nature education, Waldorf school