If little kids could close their eyes and envision their dream preschool, it might look something like Robin Hood Waldkindergarten in Berlin — one of more than 1,500 “forest kindergartens” in Germany. The New York Times just visited the school, and it sounds magical! Here are six things they do that I’d love to add to my parenting repertoire…
Let kids run free within earshot.
The children were spread out over an expanse of at least 10 acres. Some were jumping from boulders; others were dragging logs through marshland. Most were sucking on filthy icicles that had fallen from the eave of a greenhouse. At Robin Hood, the children are allowed to be out of eyesight of their minders, but not out of earshot. “Being secretive is good for child development,” Peters said.
When heading outside, don’t bring toys.
Toys are replaced by the imaginative use of sticks, rocks and leaves… “We used to bring very simple things, lengths of rope for instance,’ [a teacher named] Peters said. “But soon we realized even that wasn’t necessary.” The lack of toys, he explained, means less fighting and more inclusiveness.
Be frank and straightforward about nature.
One child discovered a gruesome scene and pulled [the school’s director] Baule over. “Ah,” she said, beckoning everyone else over. She pointed to the ground, where a pile of dark feathers lay lumped beneath a fir tree. She asked the children to guess who “killed” the blackbird. One small boy suggested that it was maybe the work of a fox. Baule, the school’s director, pantomimed exaggerated thought. “Well, no,” she said. “See how smooth the quill is?” The boy ran his fingers along the feather and nodded. “That means it was plucked. So the blackbird was killed by a bird of prey, not a fox.” She gathered the dirty feathers from the ground and distributed them one by one to the children.
Use vegetation instead of Band-Aids.
Peters bent down and picked a frosty leaf — an English plantain, I later learned. “We use this instead of Band-Aids,” he said, “You just mash it up a bit and stick it on a cut. It has natural anti-inflammatory properties.” [Ed note: Banana peels also help promote healing.]
Even the littlest kids can be outdoor adventurers.
When we returned… the children immediately kicked off their boots and stripped off their snow clothes. I suddenly saw them as they really were: tiny. In every case, their volume had decreased by at least 60 percent.
Teach your child a lifelong love of nature.
“In life, bad things happen,” [says Peters], “You lose your job or your partner or everyone just hates you — but you’ll always have this.”
I have never felt this way about nature — but I’d love to. And, of course, I’d love my children to. I’m going to think about ways to do this in New York City!
What about you? Does this sound amazing to you, or like a nightmare? Did you grow up around lots of nature? We grew up in the Michigan suburbs, but definitely had minimal adult supervision — and every summer, we’d run wild with our cousins around our grandparents’ Cornish fishing village. (And it was dangerous! We’d climb jagged rocks over the ocean, take boats out by ourselves, swim in the busy harbor with no adults — in some ways, it’s amazing we’re all still here to tell the tales.)
Read the full article here, if you’d like.
(Photos by Emma Hardy for T Magazine.)