The quintessential learning environment is one that has vibrantly coloured chairs, tables and rugs, beautified with educational posters and flashcards. Of course, all this should be tucked away in a state-of-the-art classroom. Yes, it’s great for kids to have some outdoor time, but what if someone suggested a school where your kids learn outdoors the whole day? Any sane ‘helicopter’ parent would say that’s never going to happen.
What’s all the fuss about the ‘Forest Kindergarten’ model?
This model is also known as an outdoor nursery or nature pre-school is a form of pedagogy that offers kids between the ages of 3 and 6, the opportunity to build physical, social, cognitive and life skills in an outdoor environment. All these skills have been proven to pave the way for a successful academic career in the future. Kids are encouraged to enhance their creativity, self-esteem and critical thinking skills through a hands-on learning approach.
Did you say outdoors!! Isn’t that dangerous?
Having doubts is quite natural. Forest schools are popular in Europe and the concept has begun to trickle down to the United States. In Africa, it is a strange and unpopular teaching concept, especially when parents only feel their little ones are getting the best when bombarded with worksheets and assignments.
Research conducted by early childhood experts reveal that kids who attend forest kindergartens experience fewer injuries due to accidents. Because the child’s ability to assess risk in an outdoor environment improves, they are less likely to injure themselves in a fall.
A publication released by the Harvard Medical School also reveals that playing outside, which helps kids get sunshine and exercise, can help them improve their immune system.
This sounds intriguing, but don’t the kids just end up playing all day?
Forest kindergartens are less noisy than standard classrooms. Hold up, you’re thinking doesn’t every pre-school teacher say noise is a good thing? Shouldn’t kids be allowed to express themselves?
It’s sort of different. Kids in forest schools aren’t sandwiched to make noise in a closed room. They are allowed to express themselves freely while exploring their environment through the guidance of a teacher. This tactic has been proven by researchers to reduce stress levels and develop the child’s fine and gross motor skills.
To the untrained eye, the kids roaming outside might appear to just be goofing around, but don’t be fooled. An outdoor environment provides children with the perfect opportunity to learn by making use of all their senses- seeing, listening, feeling, smelling, tasting and discerning.
Children are exposed to disciplines such as science, math, physical education, literature and art without the presence of fancy toys or equipment. Playing imaginative games and role play using whatever resources are available help kids explore their creativity. Also building shelters or other large structures in their ‘outdoor classroom’ develop the children’s engineering skills, while counting objects in the forest help the kids master their numeracy skills.
The kids also sing songs and rhymes, explore their immediate environment and play memory games- activities designed to perfect their understanding of teamwork, enhance their communication skills and improve their strength and physical awareness.
In a nutshell, no phones, tablets or computer screens, just kids exploring, experimenting and learning about the beautiful world around them.
What do you think about forest schools? If guaranteed the safety of your kid, would you give them a try?