Motherhood

Who Wants to Go to German Preschool?

German Forest Kindergarten

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!

German Forest Kindergarten

German Forest Preschool

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 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.

P.S. A surprising tradition for German toddlers, trying out slow parenting, and being outside with babies.

(Photos by Emma Hardy for T Magazine.)

  1. Melanie Schairer says...

    I didn’t know this about German Nursery Schools. We are relocating there in November.
    I’m terrified- don’t know what to look for in schools or even what to expect. Are all the nursery schools like this or only specific ones?

    • Kristina says...

      Hi Melanie,
      I grew up in Germany and I can assure you, even though there are many Waldkindergarten, you can also find “regular” pre-schools or nurseries. Depending on where you will be living they will probably be located in a regular house with either access to a fenced in yard or a nearby playground.
      Also depending on where you will go, you might be able to find quite a big expat community who will surely be happy to help answer your questions. My friend found many fellow American expats in Berlin through Facebook.
      All the best for your upcoming move,
      Kristina

  2. Melinda says...

    This isn’t only in Germany, but here in Switzerland, we have it as well. My daughter was in the Wald spielgruppe. She liked it, until they had to go outside in the rain! She ended up with pneumonia and a seven day stay in the children’s hospital. So there are some cons from this, way of ‘education!’

  3. Sally says...

    I’m a teacher here in the UK and I take my class of 4-6 year olds to “forest school” once a fortnight.
    It’s very similar to that German pre-school. I take nothing with us beyond a snack and some hot chocolate for drinking!
    Otherwise the children make their own entertainment! Yeah, they come home with a few scratches, stings and bruises (and I do!), but they are making memories – which are more important.
    Only last week, I heard one of my 6-year old girls laugh for the first time in 18 months… All it took was to let her wrestle me to the ground and sit on my chest!

  4. I LOVE this. I think this kind of focus on free exploration, building social skills, and autonomy is crucial for kids. I’m so discouraged by how standardized school is now. It doesn’t allow for creativity, imagination, or your natural curiosity to blossom. Teacher are held to such strict guides for benchmarks their kids are supposed to hit, but this doesn’t take into account that a teacher is taking care of the hearts and minds of so many different students! Anyway, I could go on and on about this I suppose. Ultimately, I find this incredibly inspiring and fun. I am pregnant with my first babe and hope he or she can have an educational experience like this.

  5. Sue says...

    I’ve been reading a book called “How to Raise a Wild Child” about keeping kids in touch with nature, it’s written by the paleontologist who is on Dinosaur Train! It’s an interesting read. My kids go to preschool downtown, they are lucky to have a couple of trees on the playground. I try to make up for it with evenings and weekends outside. They definitely are better behaved outdoors! https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00S46SODC/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

  6. Ashley W says...

    We have Tiny Trees here in Seattle! I first discovered them on Facebook. Pics of them in “class” are so adorable. They aim to be more affordable and offer assistance to those that need it. I just put our newborn on the waitlist for when he turns 3! :)

    https://tinytrees.org

  7. abrs says...

    Our friends (originally from Germany) send their sons to a waldkindergarten, here, north of Austin. The boys love it! It embraces the way my friend was raised in Bremen and sounds a lot like the way my husband was raised outside of Munich; using nature as the playground. My son’s charter school is using the concept of nature over toys in their “playground” and he’s so excited to explore and play in it this fall. I like your take away of incorporating elements of waldkindergarten in our suburban life.

  8. Rebecca Sunde says...

    Brooklyn has a Forest School! I have friends who take their twins to Upper Manhattan Forest School, and they have all sorts of funny stories, like the kids trying to eat slugs :)

  9. Jessica says...

    We live in very rural new mexico on a reservation. We moved here from Atlanta. I was so anxious about no playgrounds, no museums, no activities. But, my kids just play outside–rocks, mud, sticks, leaves, puddles, snow, it’s what keeps them busy all day. I feel so lucky that this is their childhood but sometimes I REALLY WANT THAI FOOD ;)

  10. Colleen Wenos says...

    I’m from Wisconsin, and when I visited new york city, Central Park was a must see, but not a replacement :)

  11. Claire says...

    I also grew up in Suburban Michigan and I found plenty of unsupervised time to go off and wander. I remember going Up North when I was younger and spending hours on the shore of Lake Michigan, playing in the sand dunes and exploring the forest edges (I think I read too many fairy tales to go in to deep -(witches, bears and possibly other magicked animals could be lurking in there and I wasn’t ready to become a cautionary tale) but I loved it.

    I struggle now with letting my three year old play, relatively unsupervised (not a lot of toys, etc) but knowing how dangerous things can be always tugs at me. Strangers have never looked so dangerous and kind to me all at the same time since I’ve had kids.

  12. Aida says...

    I love this so much. I wish we had these sorts of opportunities in my community. Will be dragging my kids out to the forest on our next free day ?

  13. I grew up in MN and was the youngest of 5 so I had the least amount of supervision. I would disappear into the woods of our backyard for hours and my mother never seemed to worry. One time when I got back from a walk I pulled off 20 ticks that had been crawling on me and smashed them with a hammer. Then went inside the house like NBD. I love nature and hope that my children will have the same love and appreciation for it. Even tho we live in Brooklyn I try to get them out in it as much as possible.

  14. Lisa says...

    I live in the U.K. but grew up in South Africa. Here they start formal education at 4, which in my opinion is way WAY too young. A couple of years ago I read an article by a British journalist who moved from London to SA with her child who was about 4/5. She was really worried about her daughter “falling behind” so had brought along a whole curriculum and planned to spend free time going through literacy and numeracy practice. When her daughter enrolled in nursery in South Africa (which, if it is still anything like when I was a kid mostly involves running around, finger painting, dressing up, mucking about and having music time), the teachers told the mother off for being so focused on “academic” skills. They said that her daughter’s social skills were under developed. In time the mother came to see the benefits of letting her daughter just be when she was younger – she was more relaxed, had time to develop her own interests and learn through play.
    I try to remember this because in London it can be insanely competitive. A friend started tutoring her child at 2 so they would get into an excellent school. I try to let my son just hang out, explore and just be. He’s still little (15 months) and I already have moments of doubt – should I push him? What if falls behind? But it’s insane. He has so many years of formal education and having to do and be things that other people want. He needs time to just chill out and be a kid

  15. Marie Lamensch says...

    I grew up in Germany for a few years and this absolutely what I saw and somewhat experienced. Even at age 12, we would hace forest days at school..
    During vacations, kids also went to forest or farm day camps where they got to just hang out in the nature. We could do that after scool too. And we lived in Stuttgart, a city! But there were city farms and forests nearby. And at the time, kids would just take public transport in their own, no big deal.
    I learned so much about my surroundings, nature, respect for other beings. Plus by the end of the day, we were exhausted. I only have good memoies of those days connecting with our environment.

  16. Sarah H says...

    There is an awesome book on this topic—“Balanced and Barefoot” by Angela Hanscom. It’s all about outdoor play and its impact from a therapist’s perspective (the author is an Occupational Therapist). It’s given me ideas as well as changed some of my thininking and habits when it comes to letting my children explore and do “dangerous” things.

  17. Dalia says...

    My son is in Forest School in Montreal Canada and it’s the most fantastic thing ever! I love it and he loves it! I’ve even started doing the parent toddler forest school with my daughter while she is on the wait list.
    I love seeing them explore nature, work as a team and use their imagination. My sons experience at forest school has helped change the way I parent. A truly fantastic experience I am sorry he has to start kindergarten next year!

  18. Rebecca says...

    My kids attended a wonderful nature preschool in Wisconsin that is completely modeled after this concept. They go outside daily for as long as possible unless the weather is really bad. And by really bad, I mean negative temperatures. They have outdoor playspaces with no toys, they go on hikes, they make maple syrup. There is no experience like it and as they have gotten older, it’s really neat to see how it has stayed with them. Kids (and adults too) are meant to be in nature, if only all children could have this experience.

  19. Julie says...

    Tinkergarten, which has classes in NYC, is modeled off of outdoor preschools in Europe. It’s GREAT. I do it with my son, and each week it’s the best hour we spend together. Might be worth checking out for your boys!

  20. Annie says...

    Kids attend school for a very long time…5 to 18. Spending the first three years of school outside seems brilliant to me. And, as a primary school teacher for a good few years, I can vouch for the simple fact that children always behave better outside. Even the kids that every teacher knows can be a tricky prospect in a classroom. We spend too much time keeping them inside and clock-governed. There was plenty of attention to rules and regulations going on in that kindergarten if that is what you want but not as most of us might recognise it. Reading, writing and all the rest come easiest when children are ready. About 7, I would say. Playing is the most important bit for young brains and playing is also learning. The obverse is also true: learning is playing. We ignore that.

    • Nathalie says...

      Love this!

  21. Anni says...

    My kids go to a Kindergarten in Germany. It is not a forest Kindergarten, but close to a forest and fields. So every Wednesday they have a Nature Day, which they spend hiking through the woods, looking for traces of wild boar, little squirrels or interesting birds. In the winter they made little ‘cakes’ for birds out of fat and nuts, which they placed in trees in the woods and went to visit the birds every once in a while on their Nature Days. They absolutely love wednesdays best :)

  22. My mom is a teacher in elementary school in Germany and she is not persuaded of “waldkindergärten”.
    The kids are not used to sit and “work” on a table, because they stroll around outside the whole day. It’s often very difficult for them to be in elementary school the whole day. Some of her pupils she had to send back to kindergarten, so they could learn to sit on a table inside a room!

    I had both of my kids in a little “wald group” from the age of 2 to 3, two forenoons in a week. It was an experiance for the kids but I don’t think this is a way to educate.
    Now they are in a Montesori-Kindergarten. This is great! No running, no shouting, no “free playing” time! The kids get something to work on, they learn to write, calculate, cook, eat with fork, spoon and knife.
    My son is 6 and he is absolutely prepared for life!
    Playing in the woods? I can do this with my kids myself, therefor I don’t need a kindergarten!

    • Nathalie says...

      Everyone has different experiences. The elementary school teachers I know generally found forest kids to have better concentration skills. Perhaps the children that were send back to kindergarten were “kann-kinder” (children that aren’t quite old enough to start school but are still allowed to)?
      I am better at teaching my kids to eat properly, write and cook than I am at running around in the woods, so waldkiga works best for us.
      Having said that, Montessori preschools are also lovely :-)

    • Bonnie says...

      I teach kindergarten at an international school in Germany and find that the children who come to us from the forest schools are the best prepared when it comes to social skills and self management. Sure, they don’t know their letters and sounds yet, but, I find that comes quickly because they’re confident and independent!

  23. Brie says...

    Our son goes to forest nursery in London. It’s amazing and has provided a place of outdoor exploration and familiarity in an urban setting. We cannot recommend it highly enough – love it! Being outside to play, regardless of weather, is such a fundamental aspect of childhood – I only wish it were the standard!

    • Frances says...

      Can I ask what the school is called? We may be relocating to London. Thanks!

  24. I grew up in rural Jamaica. It was so much fun having acess to nature in your backyard. I wish I could give my son this opportunity.

    • Miranda Wood says...

      I’m so glad you posted this article! I have a 19 month old daughter and I’ve spent the last several months researching forest kindergartens and nature preschools. There’s not a whole lot out there for kids younger than 3 here in Nashville, so I decided to start my own nature school playgroup. This spring there are 12 kids and there parents who meet at a local park once a week for about an hour. I prepare a few songs and read a story, we have a snack and then play in the forest. It’s been so much fun! I’m also making our back yard into a nature playground for my daughter and her little friends. There’s are tons of resources out there to guide you on how to do that. For me, exploring/connecting to nature, moving around outside, and observing changes in weather and seasons feels like an approach to parenting that will raise up healthy, inquisitive, kind people.

  25. Rue says...

    I was an outdoor-loving kid in a family that does not fit what you’d think of as “outdoorsy” in the modern American sense. I think it’s important to recognize that there are many ways of being outside that don’t look like an REI ad.

    I grew up in a NY suburban heartland, but found plenty of outdoor time in my yard, at local beaches (not lying on a towel, but going for long walks in all seasons), and walking or biking around residential neighborhoods with friends.

    I’m a geologist now, and people frequently ask me if I was always outdoorsy. I never know how to answer that. You don’t have to grow up going on family backpacking trips in order to be able to enjoy outdoor adventures as an adult. I didn’t go camping until I went away to college, and now I set up my own high elevation backcountry camps for work. My unsupervised outdoor time as a kid allowed me to see the natural world as a place to seek refuge, a place to ground myself, and as an open book for asking endless questions. I feel very lucky I get to directly incorporate that into my job now, but I appreciate those skills even when I’m not going outside for work, and even when I’ve had jobs where I wasn’t working as a field scientist.

    And I *dream* of sending my hypothetical future kids to forest preschool.

  26. Jane says...

    I grew up in the wide open desert, so the concept of a forest was foreign to me. Once when I was little I read a book where there was a forest, and I just could not picture it! I’d only seen forests in movies and TV, never in real life. Now, after having been in many forests, I feel I can appreciate them that much more. Despite the difference in biome growing up, I still very much identify with these thoughts on nature.

  27. Nathalie says...

    Our daughter is in a German forest preschool and we love it. They are taught not to touch dead birds or mice and they have “toys” – old cooking utensils and buckets. They also have knives and saws which they can use in a certain (supervised!) area. I love that she can find a ribwort plant and use it on insect bites/stinging nettle.
    I am not the kind of person that can easily point out flowers and birds so I was happy to be able to “outsource” that education. We can bake and draw and make music at home.

  28. Elizabeth says...

    I went to a German preschool in California and I remember being taught at an early age that plants and flowers were living things that should be nurtured, not destroyed. There was also an incredibly mean billie goat (Tammy) that roamed the garden, so most kids quickly learned the importance of respecting animals as well (she butted when anyone angered her, which was pretty much everybody).

  29. Carrie says...

    Sounds exactly like my childhood. 11 acres that were mine for the exploring. I cherish my years in the forest so much.

  30. I really feel like I had the BEST childhood. I grew up in the suburbs of Richmond, VA, but we had a pretty wild backyard with – the most magical part – a medium-sized creek running behind it. My brother and I spent hours there every day, splashing through the water, catching bugs, digging through clay, and jumping off a fallen log into the sand below. It was amazing!

  31. Alex says...

    I’m definitely trying to raise my kids this way. We get out in nearly all weather and I actually just learned about plantain. One of my kids has a stick wherever he goes; we joke that his spirit animal is a beaver.

  32. Holly says...

    One more thought… I am a teacher in a public US high school and am hesitant to even leave the room for a quick trip to the bathroom during class for fear of what might happen when a bunch of 10th graders are left to their own devices (in a boring classroom, at that!). Although this outdoor school surely offers so many benefits I am curious about how they safeguard themselves when it comes to liabilities (injury, dead bird borne illness, etc.). Annnnnd I guess this comment pretty much solidifies the fact that I’m now a 35 year old mom. Moment of silence for my very cool and free spirited 17 year old self.

    • M says...

      I moved to the US from Europe eight years ago, and in the European countries I know liability was never a concern – either in healthcare or in education. I’m not sure how it’s changing now, but the mindset of suing and safeguarding yourself against it just wasn’t there, and nobody (except my mom, but that’s a different story :) would try to come up with the worst thing that could happen once in a million times. There was much less anxiety, much less teaching children to “prepare yourselves for danger”, and a general assumption that everyone will be ok.

    • Marina says...

      I’m a EU citizen, and I have lived in 4 European countries so far.

      Liability is a VERY American concern. I work in the justice system and I don’t see most European judges even listening to parents who enrolled their children in this kind of school complaining about a dead bird borne illness.

      Parents usually sign a consent form at the beginning of the school year, authorizing a list of things that are usual practises of the kids’ school, and that’s pretty much it. You would have to prove severe neglicence of a teacher to sue, and that’s really very difficult (and obviously does not include going to the bathroom, which is part of workers’ rights).

      Bad things happen. Courts cannot and should not solve them all through liability suits.

  33. Katie says...

    I grew up at the end of a dirt road on 6 acres 40 minutes from “town”. Until I was 14, you couldn’t see another house from our house – it was just a big ole prairie. Summers seemed sooooooooo long, with no cable (3 channels & a temperamental antenna!) and no other kids on our road. We were surrounded by a lot of nature and considered the VERY LOUD barn owls that lived in the oak trees our ‘party’ neighbors (who also snatched our kittens if we weren’t careful). It was a half mile from the bus stop to our house, but half that if you cut across our neighbors pasture. We were warned against this because of rattle snakes and it was always a terror/thrill to be halfway through it & hear the rattle and then RUN FOR OUR LIVES! (Srsly though – looking back – this was so so so dumb of us as we were little tiny nimrods & the nearest hospital was so far away, sorry Mom). I went from that upbringing to the city & eventually, to Shanghai. It wasn’t until I lived there that I realized I physically need/crave nature. It gets under your skin, for sure. And love that line about it being free & something everyone can always have – how true! PS – Every time I’m in NYC I’m wowed by its crazy ability to be this urban gem with so. much. nature. It’s so there…and not just in the parks – but up, with the birds & trees everywhere, and the water on all sides. I totally think you’ll do this with your kiddos – easily! Especially with your beach trips & stuff. What a great mix!

  34. Janey says...

    Something my kids really enjoy is going for a scavenger hunt in the woods. They each take a little bag and I prepare a list (e.g. something smooth, something rough, something beautiful, something edible, something interesting etc) They will walk for miles searching for the best “treasures”. We take a drink and snack and find a secret den under a tree before heading home where they lay out all their nature finds.

  35. “Being secretive is good for child development.”

    I love this! Baby no. 1 is on the way and posts like these are resonating especially. I’m looking so forward to this year’s Motherhood Around the World series.

  36. This reminds me of an episode of Invisibilia I just listened to called Fearless. Really interesting take on how fear has increased while crime decreased and how fear affects our lives, including in parenting (among other things).

  37. Tara says...

    I love this idea for a preschool.

    While we don’t have any forests within walking distance of our house, my almost four year old son has been “helping” my husband with our garden since he could walk. He loves digging and finding bugs and worms. Something I wouldn’t have taught him since I scream at the sight of a spider. But I’m so glad my husband taught him how to embrace nature and it’s helping me embrace it a little more too. Even though I still refuse to hold a worm when my son offers…

  38. Bonnie says...

    They do this in Denmark too. When we lived in Copenhagen, DK kids would go out to “udflytterbørnehaven” or “outgoing kindergartens” from age 3 up and spend all day out in the woods.
    Even napping outside.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      what a dream!

  39. Sasha says...

    As a homeschool family we spent a lot of time outdoors, not out of some idea about nature curriculum, but because mom loves it outside. We hiked, played near our rivers in the cottonwoods, exploring mushrooms and nests, crossing log bridges, throwing sticks for the dogs. At home we had a tree house, hammocks, chickens, a garden, strawberry patch. But we live in MT and sometimes it’s-40, or mud up to your knees, or so windy….So we also baked and read and painted and played piano and board games and made dolls and books and spent hours at our library. And so much time just doing “nothing”. When dad got home and asked “what did you do today? He heard “nothing” an awful lot.
    And most days we all ate cookies and/or popcorn and watched Arthur together on PBS.
    I like the idea of a lot of freedom and trust and play, but it’s ok for the adults to join in a bit more too.

  40. Jess says...

    Err can I go to this school now? Would love to spend my days looking for bugs, climbing trees, learning about plants and stomping around in a forest all day. Dreams.

  41. Carrie says...

    Growing up in Texas, we split our vacations between long weekends at my grandfather’s ranch and long road trips to national parks. At the ranch, we would roam through the cow pastures or horse pens. The pastures and pens were filled with huge thorn bushes, enormous ant beds, and both large and small animals. At the parks, we would climb large boulders, complete “junior ranger” activity books, and sometimes have too close of encounters with the wildlife. None of this was “safe,” and I have a few more “snake stories” than I’d like, but it taught us independence, built lasting bonds between me, my brother, and our cousins, and instilled a love for nature in us.

  42. Lizzie says...

    This is wonderful and reminds me of my childhood. I grew up on 100 acres of land and my sister and I were free to wonder as far as we could as long as we were home for dinner. Nature, plants and little creatures were our entertainment and we passed long stretches of time making up the games and stories in the woods. Now I live in a city, and I love it for totally different reasons. But when my partner and I talk about raising a family some day, I cannot imagine a childhood without the sense of freedom and play in the natural world that I had. My partner grew up in the suburbs, so I don’t think quite understands the impact that growing up in the countryside had on me. One day when we were talking about this subject I asked what seemed like an ordinary question, “have you ever known a piece of land so well, that you know each animal’s little burrow, each place where spiders build webs and notice anytime there is the smallest change in the environment?” He had a totally blank look on his face, and that’s when it occurred to me that such a connection with nature as a child isn’t the norm for everyone. I hope in the future we can find a way to bring that experience to our children (and my partner!) so they can have it too!

  43. Rosie says...

    Awesome to see this featured!!

  44. Amber Olney says...

    This is so intriguing. Thank you for sharing! And thank you for the mass volume of international features you do on Cup of Jo – my husband and I are hoping to move abroad soon, and your posts make it feel especially tangible (and wonderful!). Thank you!

  45. Most of this sounds quite wonderful!

    Briana

  46. Stephany Park says...

    My daughter goes to Tiny Trees in Seattle. It is the perfect solution for her restless little legs and wandering mind. She loves running around in the woods and climbing trees. She doesn’t fully know her alphabet, but she knows how to identify edible plants and she’s not afraid of spiders. When I pick her up, she is covered in dirt and her hair is tangled with dried leaves. I can’t be happier. :)

    • Rebecca says...

      That sounds like our preschool in Wisconsin! The muddier they are at pick up, the more fun I know they had ;-)

  47. Alice says...

    I read a quote once that was something like “Do your favourite childhood memories take place inside or outside?” Mine are all outside; from forest dens made of ferns to sitting in our postage stamp city garden picking beans and shelling them. I was a city girl with a nature head mum, and I’m so grateful for that.

    My 3 year old spends about 5 or 6 hours outside every day in his huge nursery garden as they operate an ‘open door’ policy where the kids choose where to play. He’s in our maze of communal gardens at home for probably 7-8 hours at the weekend, and the joy there is I often can’t see him but I can hear him, that really resounded with me. He doesn’t even think about screen time unless the back door is locked. My youngest is learning to walk on grass and is happiest outside too. We chose to live in Edinburgh because we’re city folk, but have access to amazing nature within and right outside the city and I feel so lucky. It’s incredibly important me, I get so much joy from seeing them running free outside. If I didn’t have these resources I’d be sending them to a forest school, for sure. School will come in a couple of years and there are plenty of years of desks and classrooms ahead.

    Though when we found a dead bird in our garden, we talked about it and then I cleared it up. Snail slime fingers ok, dead bird, not so much.

    • Sarah in DC says...

      I love Edinburgh! Climbing to Arthur’s Seat was so much fun, what a gorgeous city and country. It really does seem like a great combo of city and nature.

    • Gillian says...

      Hi Alice, we live in Edinburgh too, I have an almost 2 year old. I’m trying to spend a LOT of time outside with him now because he really craves it and it seems to do us both a lot of good. It would be lovely to hang out with some like-minded mums if you ever fancy it? :)

  48. Erin says...

    I would love to start up something like this in my area!

  49. Kate says...

    In Australia once a term my sons kindy would have “bush kindy” where they spend the day at thre local nature reserve. They go exploring taking photos and collecting nature treasures, doing bush craft and building nature fairy houses.

  50. KA says...

    Love this <3 A kindergarden like this would have been perfect for our firstborn! Unfortunately we moved out of Germany soon after his birth and apparently nature preschools don't exist where we've been living ever since.

  51. It sounds amazing. And just think how their wee brains are getting stretched and filled with useful imaginations, instead of getting fried by staring at a screen.

  52. This immediately made me think of your post from about a year ago featuring Wednesday Chef Luisa’s experience with her son’s preschool overnight trip! What a world, German preschools!

  53. Kat says...

    This sounds amazing. I’m a social-emotional learning specialist in a school district and although I love my job, every day my heart breaks a little bit at how regimented, unnatural, and INDOORS our education system is (I support charter schools and they can be especially bad). We as a species didn’t develop in systems and environments like that, and it’s not good for us! And don’t even get me started on schools that take away recess as a consequence. It’s not just our district, of course – our whole educational system is painfully broken…anyway I’m probably preaching to the choir. I hope this article helps people realize it’s okay for kids to be outside and unstructured and even unsafe, to a degree, and all of it helps them learn and develop.

  54. Robyn says...

    My kindergartner does this at her school every Friday “Forest Fridays” in Vermont. It is so magical!

  55. Lo says...

    My boyfriend and I totally plan to let our children be independent players. I remember using toys to entertain myself for HOURS before asking my parents to participate too. I only got into video games in my teens and therefore feel grateful for the summers I spent running around outside camping, playing in the woods, and by the seaside.

  56. Deborah says...

    As an American, I was used to very structured playground time. Then I moved to the Middle East and started going to parks with Europeans during the winter. It transformed our outdoor play time! We now go for an entire afternoon, four hours. We bring water, snacks, and bandaids. My boys were bored after 30 minutes the first time, but the other children introduced them to the joys of sticks and dens and make-believe. We do it once a week, and it has been so good for my boys.

  57. I moved from London to Munich when I was 37wks pregnant, and our daughter May now attends a German nursery. It was a shock to my London brain when I would ask what they did all morning & they would reply “played outside”. But now I’ve embraced it. We spend hours outside a day, come rain or shine & live by the saying “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”
    Kids here play more, explore more & have a childhood.
    Whilst I’m still guilty of worrying about numeracy & words I am learning to love the power of outdoors even more.

  58. Rebecca says...

    My three young children currently attend school in Germany, and I can attest to the wonderful things that happen with these principles in place. (We aren’t even in a specialized “Forest School.”) They each benefit from fewer toys and greater freedom to explore and use their imaginations—dirt, bugs, and all. I feel it’s such a gift to bring them up in this way!

  59. Anna Cohen says...

    This was my son’s preschool in Denmark, I miss it so much!! Here in Sydney, Australia some daycares and preschools don’t go outside if it’s too hot, too cold or too wet… it’s ridiculous! Some daycare centres don’t even have an outdoor space?!?

  60. isavoyage says...

    I love this and would love to give this kind of childhood experience to my son. Here in France, kids are supposed to sit way too long in school, even at the age of 3. They often go outside only once a day, in a small enclosed park with concrete flooring! How CRAZY is this? Drives me nuts.
    I attended schools in the US as a child twice (half a year in kindergarden, and one yearwhen i was 4 and when i was 8) and both times i found it very hard to adjust to my French school again. Used to tell my parents it was like going to prison!

  61. Lisa says...

    I grew up in the north of Sweden (the remote, wild, part) and definitely had a lot of contact with nature early on. My kindergarten spent hours outside when it wasn’t too cold (I think the “too cold”-limit was set to -20 degrees Celsius) and we offer took the short walk to the nearby forest. Made fires, collected leaves, learned about animal drippings, the flora and fauna, what to do if you ever get lost in the wilderness etc. Since this was taught very early on (and continued in school later) I have always felt at ease in the forest – even deep inside a forest. I know what to do and how to survive. Also, getting dirty is great for a child’s development. You can always shower and wash the clothes. No biggie.

  62. Julia says...

    As a (German) biologist, a teacher and a mom I am absolutely horrified about handling dead animals like this. I would be in great trouble if I let my students do this and for good reason! Being outside requires us teachers to actively teach children what to touch and what to leave alone instead of just letting the kids touch everything and do whatever they want. They need guidance, not complete freedom “within earshot”.
    As a young child, how do I know the distance of an “earshot” and what do I do if my teacher can’t hear me anymore? As a teacher, how do I know if I hear all of the 15 voices vs. “only” 13 or 14? There is a very big difference between letting kids be secretive and letting your responsibilites slide and possibly causing dangerous situations for the kids.

  63. The Parisian Girl says...

    We lived in Sweden for a couple years, my brother who was 2 at that time went to a Montessori school. Every week they had “skogis”, half a day spent in the nature no matter what the weather was! They had small backpacks with hot chocolate and snacks. Cutest thing ever and what a great adventure for kids this age!

  64. My kids go to an inner-city pre-school in Stockholm, Sweden, that is really similar to the pre-school described. 1-3 days a week are spent in the woods. Yesterday they spent all day in the forest. They grilled hot dogs for lunch and reviewed fire safety rules. More often their cooked lunch is brought to them in the forest (the cook drives a little moped-car). After lunch they laid out a tarp under a tree with a tarp suspended in the trees to shield them from the sun, and read a book and rested together. They don’t ever bring any toys with them – and this has been one of the best things I’ve learned as a parent: less toys mean less conflicts and better creative play. I am not naturally outdoorsy (I think too much about snakes and bugs and and and) but my children are. And that is all thanks to their fantastic pre-school.

  65. We live in Zürich (Switzerland) and I must say my kids enjoy Nature as I never ever did before – although I was always out and about when I was a kid. We love it, apart from ticks which are everywhere ARGH! Thanks for sharing this post with us, beautiful!

  66. Maija says...

    Ugh, would have been a nightmare to me as a kid and still sounds like one. Kind regards, the kid who pretented to sleep through nap time at preschool so she didn’t have to go outside

  67. My girls are attending local Swiss schools and forest is a huge part of their life in kindergarten. They build fires, roast bread and sausages, and spend loads of time outdoors. It is truly a wonderful childhood here and we are so lucky they are experiencing this childhood in Switzerland.

  68. Cheers from Germany where this concept is known beyond Berlin of course. Especially at the countryside you find “forest kindergarden” everywhere.
    What I like most about it – while children visiing traditional kindergarden are sharing with us lot’s of virus for cold etc those visiting forest kindergarden are much more healthy. Outdoor everyday. Only in case of “torrent rain” they have a discarded workmen’s van for shelter.

  69. Great post! We live in Switzerland and both of my children were part of an outdoor playgroup. The program was amazing and regardless of the weather, the children were immersed in nature each class session. There is something so magical and incredible about the natural world, we miss too much by staying indoors. Children and adults were meant to explore. I commend and fully advocate such programs!

  70. Sarah K says...

    This is fascinating and sounds very German. I adore the German culture and language and people and am grateful for all my experience of it–but I had to laugh at the memories this headline evoked. I spent a year as an expat kid attending first grade in then-West Berlin. It was truly sink or swim. Of course this was only one person’s experience–but the teacher was often very late to class, a particularly rowdy student chased her around the room with scissors, and every day at recess all grade levels were released at the same time, which resulted in the big kids shoving us little ones up against the brick walls while they all took the swings. When my parents expressed some alarm, the German parents said stoically, “It’s best to just look away.” As a parent now, I cannot imagine putting my child in that situation–but I learned the language fluently and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. So maybe those German parents were right!

  71. I recently visited a school in the jungle in Bali, made entirely from renewable local materials like bamboo, grass, and mud, with beautiful open air classrooms. The school has a strong focus on raising socially aware children who are in touch with nature, so it shares some of the philosophies of the Robin Hood school.

    “We are building Green School to create a new paradigm for learning. We want children to cultivate physical sensibilities that will enable them to adapt and be capable in the world. We want children to develop spiritual awareness and emotional intuition, and to encourage them to be in awe of life’s possibilities.” Green School Founders, Cynthia and John Hardy.

    I wrote about my visit here, with photos of the beautiful school, if you’d like to read more: http://www.thislifeisbelle.com/home/2017/3/29/green-school

  72. Savannah says...

    My family ( grandma, grandpa, mama, papa, and 9 month old Winnifred) just got home from a week in Yosemite. I had nightmares for weeks prior to the visit about bears and wild cats and drowning! I didn’t have an outdoor bone in my body! But hiking with Fred sleeping on my back- she missed literally all the major sights- I could have walked in the woods staring up at the granite forever. Now I’m home and I’ve committed to be brave like this outdoor school! I want my girl to be able to find peace outside without fear. So far being a parent has been trying not to pass bad habits on to my baby (I imagine when she’s a teenager I will discover I have not been completely successful!).

  73. We are currently on a ten week camping trip, focusing on National Parks/Monuments. It’s very interesting how we sleep and rise with the sun, how we value water and food, and how we manage to live with much less (and still manage to donate items at each stop). It’s been a learning experience for us, and also for our family and friends who read our blog–it’s amazing how many people tell us that we are living a dream, and how it has connected us to so many people from different areas and walks of life. As Barbara Kingsolver wrote, “People need wild places. Whether or not we think we do, we do.” We are so fortunate to have this trip and feel lucky to share it with others.

    • Nicola says...

      Ali, this sounds fascinating. I’d love to read your blog. I’m very interested in doing something like this, and just trying to figure out when is the best age to do this with our two kids. Please share more of your adventure!

    • Sarah says...

      How wonderful! I would love to read your blog too, if you are willing to share? We have a family goal of visiting all of the U.S. national parks together, so this sounds like a fantastic way to experience them, now that my kids are getting a little bit older.

  74. Kelsy says...

    My younger daughter goes to an entirely outdoor preschool here in Santa Barbara, California. They are definitely gaining in popularity here— it’s kind of a no-brainer with the temperate year round weather, high cost of real estate and so much beautiful nature. We all love it and it’s been a dream to watch her grow and learn about the world in a different way than traditional school.

    (Also a huge plus is she never gets sick. All of the fresh air and no germy toys!)

  75. Malia says...

    This is wonderful. I wish ticks and poison ivy weren’t such a problem in the Northeast US. I want to release my kids to the woods to play freely, but it’s hard to feel relaxed about it when so many people I know who’ve lived here a while have had a family member who’s had Lyme disease or have had it themselves at some point.

    Are there any concerns like these in Europe?

    • meredith says...

      Learn what poison ivy looks like and avoid it. Simple. I’m an environmental scientist in the Northeast and am outside ALL THE TIME. I”m also outside all the time at home on my small farm. Buy a good insect spray (there are even some good natural ones that work well) and use it. I’ve had lyme disease twice. Antibiotics work wonders. Know where you are likely to get ticks and take precautions.

      I’m alarmed at the number of adults actually afraid to be outside and the children they are raising to also be afraid. It creates such a huge disconnect from our environment and I just see in future generations an apathy towards plants and animals and their importance.

    • Nathalie says...

      Yes there are tons of ticks in Germany! My daughter goes to a forest preschool and they tuck their pant legs into their socks and most wear insect repellent. We check for ticks every evening and if we find one (so far we’ve only found two on her in 3 years), we save it in a ziplock bag for testing in case symptoms develop.
      I feel with the above precautions, the benefits of being outdoors outweigh the possible risk. But I know what you mean about not feeling relaxed.

    • katharine says...

      I grew up running around the woods in New Hampshire and yes, I got poison ivy a few times, and I’ve had more than a few ticks… but I lived! As soon as I was mobile my parents taught me to check myself for ticks every time I came inside (a habit I’m still in, thankfully). I eventually became a master at identifying poison ivy/poison oak/stinging nettles/poison berries/etc! I say start em young, as long as you’re vigilant about ticks, it’s all a learning experience.

  76. Sarah Tefs says...

    So much of this sounds like my son’s preschool! It’s not daily, but each week they go on a forest walk into the park on the school’s grounds. Last week I was fortunate enough to tag along and see how the kids respect nature and how boundless their imaginations are! While they aren’t allowed out of eyesight (not safe in Virginia where the copperheads may be hiding), they swing in the trees and dig in the dirt and simply relish the gifts of nature. I grew up in the SW corner of Michigan on a ravine and I spent every day playing there in the summer. Though times are surely different, it’s so nice to see my son enjoying the same things I did as a child.

  77. G says...

    As a kid who ran around catching lizards and snakes and getting covered in dirt, I love this idea. Some of the most important values you learn in preschool and kindergarten are how to be part of a community, a social ecosystem, and what is a forest if not exactly that?

  78. Merideth Ludwig says...

    Check out free forest school – theres one in nyc!!!!

  79. Sandra says...

    This sounds so wonderful! I also grew up in the Detroit ‘burbs but we went camping out west a lot since my parents were teachers and had summers off (and were broke). :-) I think it is so important to introduce kids to the beauty of nature and the importance of taking care of our planet and green spaces. Not to get too political, but I don’t think our current president would look at environmental issues the same way if he had ever woken up in a tent at Rocky Mountain National Park as a kid.

    • JR says...

      This, this, this. There’s a conservation-minded quote I once read that goes something like, “In order to protect it, you must love it. In order to love it, you must know it.” We must get more people to know and love the great outdoors and the animals that dwell therein if we’re to save them from further harm.

    • Sarah in DC says...

      Totally agree. I’m also from Michigan (the mitten) and we spent summers camping in the U.P. All it takes is one night in a tent during a massive summer thunderstorm to respect nature.

  80. JBC says...

    We’ve done a weekend class like this in Central Park (Uptown Manhattan Forest Kids) and our kid loved it–and always took an epic nap afterwards.

  81. Kim says...

    This sounds just like the Waldorf school my girls attend. So grateful these types of schools are on the radar of parents now.

  82. Alex says...

    I live in Jackson, Wyoming with two young boys. The deal here is that schools do outside time every single day, regardless of weather, unless it gets below 10 degrees! Obviously, people who live in the mountains are generally nature lovers, and parents want their kids to be outside as much as possible. It helps to have the right clothes. Our kindergartener gets on the school bus in “the big 5” (snowpants, snow jacket, hat, mittens, gloves) everyday from about November to April. We live by the Norwegian expression, “there is no bad weather, only bad clothes.”

  83. EM says...

    Really wishing this would take off more in the U.S. There are no forest kindergartens or even close approximates where I live. For now, I have in-home childcare, and we try to emphasize time outdoors, and I try to help them have appropriate clothing for all weather so they can enjoy their time outside.

  84. Lisa Z says...

    Re: plants instead of bandaids: Plantain is a wonderful herbal healer that has properties to draw out dirt, pus, infection, and insect stingers. A mashed up plantain leaf placed on a bee sting provides instant relief. Kids love it when I show them this plant “magic”! You will want to wipe obvious dirt off any leaves, of course, but it will not cause infection in the wound. I’m not a doctor, though, just well-trained by some wonderful herbalists. We worry far too much about dirt!

    • Jess says...

      I consider myself an amateur herbalist as well, and agree with what she said. Also, plantiain (not the banana!) grows literally anywhere. There is probably some in the city in between cracks and definitely growing as a “weed” in Central Park! here’s a link to a blog post with a picture and some ideas on how to use. http://www.naturallivingideas.com/plantain-benefits-uses/

    • Jessica says...

      I love this!!! We also use a lot of DIY herbal remedies at home. Do you have any recommendations for websites you frequent often or books? The Herbal Academy and anything by Rosemary Gladstar are my go-tos but I’m always looking for new resources!

  85. we are sending our daughter to the brooklyn forest school this coming year. i am so thrilled for her!

  86. Jessica says...

    This article really resonates with me! Our son is two and we go outside everyday for 3-4 hours in the morning. I’ve been doing this since he was a baby no matter the weather (we live in DC). And when he was a baby I’d just carry him and let him nurse in my Ergo. But once he could walk at a year old he was off! The best purchases I have made for him (besides his college savings plan haha) were wool, fleece and waterproof base layers so he stays dry in the winter and rashguards with SPF for the summer. He LOVES being outside and will run around for hours up and down hills, dig holes, look for bugs, collect rocks, jump in puddles, name the plants, chase the squirrels – all the while pulling me along with him. And I love it too! The sheer joy on his face when we leave the house and explore outside is amazing. I always think to myself “these are the best days of my life.” :-)

    • Em says...

      Sounds fun! I am curious if you have specific spots you go? I live near DC as well. Do you just go to parks and walking trails or do you have a cool hidden gem you frequent?

    • Jessica says...

      Hi Em! We love Rock Creek park for walking trails and finding and throwing stones into the water (one of his favorite rock themed activities haha), Garfield Park (which is up the street from us and had tons of room for running, great hills, and squirrels and bugs galore), Oxon Cove Park and Farm, and Yards Park for sprinkler, swimming, ice cream, and free family Friday concerts starting next week in the summer! Maybe we’ll see you around sometime! And if you have any hidden gems in the city I’d love to hear about them too!

    • Sarah in DC says...

      National Arboretum is great too!

    • Emily J says...

      There are lots of wonderful nature centers in DC and NOVA. All of them have perfect trails for little ones. I particularly love Rock Creek Nature Center (horse stables right there too), and Gulf Branch, and Potomac Overlook in Arlington.

    • Em says...

      Wonderful ideas, thanks everyone!!

  87. MA says...

    I love this concept! It seems like this exploratory, hands-on experience with the outdoor world is somewhat missing in childhood today. We did not have an option like this when my kids were younger. But we do prioritize playing outside, and try to allow our kids to be somewhat feral. I notice that we are sort of alone in this parenting style. People do not let their kids roam free anymore.

  88. Anna Kleinfeld says...

    Totally into this!

  89. Jenny says...

    I love the idea of children being encouraged to bond with nature, but as a pediatrician in New York, a few things mentioned here horrified me. There are particular infections that can transmitted to humans specifically from birds. Why do small children under the age of 5 have to physically handle the dead animals to understand death and nature’s food chain? And using vegetation that may be coated with dirt and bacteria on open wounds as band aids???? The purpose of a band aid is to keep infection out and to act as a “second skin”, which is your child’s body’s first defense mechanism against foreign organisms. This creates the perfect set up for a skin/soft tissue infection called cellulitis or erysipelas that might require IV antibiotics in a small child.

    Most of this sounds lovely, but the safety of our kids comes first!

    • Lynne says...

      I thought the same thing. It’s not safe to handle dead birds.

    • Susie says...

      I was thinking the same thing!! Thank you for confirming my thoughts. I was thinking that maybe I was being a germaphobic and overprotective.

    • G says...

      Yes to this. And in New York, all the ticks = all the lyme disease. I still think its a great idea, just maybe with less handling of dead animals.

    • Franzi says...

      I suppose, there were just some feathers of the bird left and no unhealthy and probably infectious meat. Otherwise the guides would have explained how to handle it.

    • Sarah C says...

      To be fair– I don’t think they were handling the bird, they were merely given feathers from the bird. Part of me feels the concern of exposure to infectious disease, and part of me feels so glad that they are still finding beauty in the bird
      as well as showing the children that we can learn from it instead of yelling ‘get away from that disgusting thing ‘ or whatever your typical American person might say. I think there is potential for harm everywhere. With that being said, I’d take my chances with healing leaves and instead avoid handling money, door handles, and anything gas station related.

    • Jess says...

      Plantain has been used for thousands of years and is considered one of the best herbs for cuts and scratches. I would encourage everyone to research it for themselves to see how valuable it is. I think it’s fantastic that a small child can identify the plant to use in this situation as opposed to a child who may freak out, cry and make a big deal out of it. In terms of death and handling animals, I think we Americans are quick to freak out about germs, but there are literally millions of people that handle dead animals all the time. We do it at our farm as we butcher animals, which I realize is different than coming across one that has been laying there. However, our kids are young, 5, 6 and 6, and they know how to handle a dead animal. It also does help solidify the idea of death. It doesn’t remain an abstract idea, but the child looks, and touches and knows better what death looks like in an animal. I think all of this adds more for my kids as they realize that death is real, this is what it does, and contributes to a greater appreciation in what it means to eat animals, or feeling sadness when we see something dead/dying.

    • Jenny says...

      Meredith – you are absolutely right! However, there is a difference between allowing your children to play in mud/sandboxes/etc to expose them early (new research even says that earlier exposure to peanuts is safe) and having them handle dead animals that may have been rotting for a while or placing unwashed vegetation on open wounds. Plantain sounds wonderful and I don’t doubt that it may have beneficial properties – honey is another example of a substance with natural antibacterial properties – but I was commenting on the adult teacher in this article who picked up a plantain leaf from the ground, which may have been in contact with pathogens.

      I would also encourage you to ask your pediatrician on trusted news and article sources for medical advice. Kidshealth.org is a great one :) At the end of the day, we pediatricians have finished 4 years of medical school and at least 3 years of pediatric residency from a western medicine perspective and can only comment on remedies that have been proven to be effective or likely effective either through large scale, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials or expert opinion. We usually do not comment on some natural remedies that have not been rigorously studied.

  90. My son goes to an outdoor preschool here in Seattle, through an organization called Tiny Trees. He is a member of the first class, and next year they are adding classrooms all across the city (and beyond) as well as offering full day classes. They actually had to change the legislation to be able to offer full day, as there was no precedent for it. It will definitely be a game changer for lots of families.

    One great thing about it is that it is less expensive than traditional preschool, as there are no facilities to maintain. That way, more money can be spent on attracting and keeping super awesome teachers, of which the program is plentiful.

    We’ve loved our experience. The curriculum is absolutely the same as traditional preschool classrooms, but incorporating the natural world into learning- find real world ways to apply the things the kids are learning. It’s been the wettest winter on record in Seattle, but that does not bother these kids at all. We are moving in a few months and will have to say goodbye to Tiny Trees, and it breaks my heart a little. Outdoor schools rock!

    • Yay for Tiny Trees!! I am thrilled that these schools are taking off here in Seattle. I was walking in the Arboretum this morning and loved hearing the kids at the UW forest school shrieking with laughter as they stomped through the trees .

      Also, I kind of love that the ‘welcome to preschool’ package includes a full length waterproof jumper. They’re adorable. And they definitely needed it this winter!

  91. My amazing friend Mary Clair runs south mountain nature school in Maplewood, NJ It’s absolutely amazing. In the fall will be the first year to attend full time for kids ages 3-6. My boys 3 and 6 have been going for three sessions now, it’s their favorite thing ever.

  92. Emma says...

    I have an 8 month old son and really want him to enjoy nature. I grew up on a quite street in a large city and played outside almost entirely. Free play, no one explained anything about nature to me, and I was easily grossed out by slimy animals I ran into. But I played hard outside. Sometimes I feel like my lack of knowledge about nature will prevent my son from falling in love with it in a way I never did. I want to be able to explain things to him, why the leaves change colors, the types of trees we pass by etc. Perhaps I need to learn along side him as I currently don’t know anything!

  93. Megan Spurgeon says...

    We’re at a new outdoor preschool in Seattle called Tiny Trees, which I highly recommend to all the Seattle parents out there! The trickiest part here in the PNW is ALLTHERAIN = ALLTHELAUNDRY. Nevertheless, we’re adding our second little there in the fall too.

    • We are a Tiny Trees family as well- Camp Long! Allllll the laundry… ?

    • Anna Kleinfeld says...

      Ha!

  94. My husband is Swedish, and “forest kindergartens” are the standard for Swedish children! He is always shocked at how little time American kids spend outdoors everyday, regardless of weather. The “Forest Kindergartens” alone may be enough to convince us to move back to Sweden while our littles are little!

  95. Was no one else just a little weary of the handing out of dead wild bird feathers to the kids? Do I just not know enough about birds to feel comfortable with that? Haha, maybe someone can teach me.

    The rest of it sounds really cool though, but I would agree with a previous commenter in saying that you can do structured or targeted learning AND have nature time; and if I’m choosing, I’ll handle the outdoor time and the school should handle the critical thinking stuff. Either way, thanks for sharing

    • Holly says...

      I thought the same thing! Also, “filthy icicles” ?? Maybe I’ve turned into too much of a germophobe in my old age. This school sounds a lot like my childhood afternoons playing outside and I’ve lived to tell the tale. My mom is a huge proponent of the idea that exposure to germs increases our immune systems and is actually good for kids, which I try to keep in mind when I see my toddler kiss my dog on the mouth, eat off the floor, etc.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      filthy icicles was the one part that gave me pause! although i wonder if the teachers and author would have debated how filthy they really were :)

    • Margarita says...

      Hi! I live in Germany (Frankfurt) smack in the middle of the City, so we do not have a Waldkindergarten. I have to say I don´t mind the icicle or the plant, but I was really bewildered by the dead bird/feather sharing – there is Bird Flu threat here, and I am constantly reminding my 6-year old not to touch feathers. As far as I know, the danger is stronger in northern Germany, so I don´t get this either! Waldkindergarten is about Kids being outside, and when Kids are outside they do tend to touch disgusting stuff. Swimming without supervision sounds much more hazardfull to me!!

    • Katharina says...

      German preschools (Kindergarten) are about free play and social experience and not so much (if at all) about “structured or targeted learning” – academics are typically not emphasized at all.

      Though being out all day like in this preschool.is not as common as it may sound. A lot (ore most) preschools are maily indoors but they usually come with a large outdoor area where the kids spend a lot of time during their day.

  96. Megan says...

    My husband is German and this is a huge reason he’d like to bring our kids back and raise them there. In the meantime, we do Tinkergarten classes in the Bay area. Have you heard of them? I believe they are also in NY!

    https://tinkergarten.com/

    • We do Tinkergarten in NJ! For the winter session – it was literally just my two sons (2.5 and 6 months) and I think one other child but they both loved it! There are definitely more kids in the spring session – guess not all parents are ready to be outside year round!

  97. Melody says...

    My daughter goes to preschool at the Scandinavian School in San Francisco where they offer a forest preschool program and summer camps. The kids love it! We enrolled my daughter for the regular indoor program as the hours work better for our family, but even for the indoor program they go outside every day, rain or shine- as the Danes say: there is no bad weather, only bad clothes. :)

  98. Angela says...

    So beautiful. I have always loved this idea.

    I used to do continuing education courses at our local botanic garden and they were famous for telling teachers, “Anything you can do indoors, you can do outdoors.” How smart! And they always showed us cool lessons that integrated nature with other subjects.

    They also encouraged teachers to have folders of their lesson plans and corresponding state standards with them, so if they were questioned by faculty or parents, they could point to the ways they accomplished their educational goals outdoors. I worked teaching preschool at our local zoo, so I didn’t face that kind of scrutiny, but I know a lot of the public school teachers did. I think that advice armed them with the tools to defend their methods and give kids exposure to the outdoors right in their own schoolyards.

  99. I would love this for my daughter! I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta and used to be definitely out of eyesight and earshot (more late elementary age), but there were creeks and poisonous snakes and all sorts of problems I could have gotten into, and did! But I learned a lot of skills and problem solving while doing so. I need to figure out how to incorporate some of these skills into my daughter’s life, even while living on a city block in a small city. I think teaching her to play independently and that it’s okay to get dirty are some of my first steps! Thanks for sharing!

  100. I love the idea of this, but as a teacher, I just think … LAWSUIT. :( It makes me sad we don’t have a culture built around supporting free play and exploration. Instead, it’s all about preparing kids to be part of the workforce…

  101. Lucy S says...

    I love this. I always joke that my 2 year old is slightly feral and semi believe in what I call “free range parenting.” I love letting her explore, splash in the ford, climb trees and jump around.

    However we are lucky to have about an acre of garden plus a 2 acre paddock and I cannot let her loose on that- she has an area cordoned off that I’m ok with the earshot rule.

    Also- the forest school must be SO HOT on weeding and poisonous plants. I’m so vigilant that she never puts anything in her mouth, but it scares me. As did the adder my husband found in the woodpile. Can’t imagine how you folks across the pond with the dangerous wildlife feel!

    Finally- it takes lots of work to get her used to city hazards. It took a long time to get her to stop when asked and not run off in urban parks, and she has no road sense as she rarely walks on the sidewalk. So, all kids get different skills and they all have different areas to work on too, wherever they are living and learning.

    • Diana says...

      That’s a great point. I’m going to be raising little city dwellers that have to go a good bit out of their way to see nature but that doesn’t mean they won’t develop important skills in this environment!

    • Zoe says...

      A smart and important point re: city dwellers!! I went to college with a Nebraskan who grew up In a farm focused part of the state and until she and I met in DC she had never seen a parking meter before. I don’t want to make a generalization about those that live outside of city, nor am I taking sides here, but I love the idea that you learn important skills in any environment.

  102. Kate says...

    We have nature pre schools here in NC that I can’t wait to sign my little guy up for. They’re required to have “gear” for all weather and spend the days outside/in the pine forest etc. as long as it is safe to do so! They have mud kitchens outside. It seems like such a fun way to learn the world!

    • Kate, we may be moving to NC and I’m aching to find a nature preshool for my 4 year old. Do you mind sharing which nature preschools you’ve discovered in NC? Thanks!

  103. Lizzie says...

    I love the comment about secrecy being good for development!

    I grew up in a house in the woods and there was so much imagination building forts and games with siblings and friends. I think it was important to be able to go off on my own without supervision and discover nature by myself. I wish I had more of those opportunities now as an adult in the city.

  104. Nora says...

    In Jersey City we have a Scandinavian School. The children go outside and explore at the park no matter the weather (as long as it’s safe) and help prepare and eat vegan lunches. The classrooms have a magical setup with tree house lofts where the children can read and play. It’s awesome!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      how amazing, nora!!!

    • margaux says...

      we live in JC as well, and scandi school IS an amazing place, but not at all affordable for most families (around $22K/year inc. summer programs. at least that’s what it was when we looked into it). it would be lovely to incorporate this philosophy into public education – like it is in germany – so it can be accessible to children from all walks of life.

    • S says...

      I agree with Margaux, in Europe this outdoor learning experience in early childhood is accessible to your average child, and it is unfortunate that in the US it is there for those who can afford it. In Switzerland our children have been part of forest classes and weekly forest kindergarten. Our school-aged daughter is in the forest with her class this morning. But our resources here are just average. In the US children who could perhaps benefit the most from this sort of experience – it would really make a difference in their childhood and is something they would not have access to outside of a structured class – can not afford it even if their parents see it as something valuable. Sorry to veer in a political/ideological direction! Would this ever grow into something that is available to all children equally in the US?

    • Malia says...

      I’ve been thinking about this, too. There are some great forest- or free-play-based opportunities (schools, camps) for kids of all ages in my small city, but there are very expensive, too. The preschool is twice the price of a regular daycare center and with fewer hours. These programs sometimes offer scholarships or pay-what-you-can or reserve spots for certain publicly-funded kids, which is great, but still not accessible to everyone, and I’m sure many middle- and lower-income families aren’t familiar with the programs or their funding options.

  105. kiki says...

    I’m a bit torn about this. I live in Portland, and this is a very popular thing here. I did not read closely how the German schools are structured; but here they are very loose and run through the 6th grade. (no indoor time, no toilet, no structure, no academic learning). I feel like, yes, of course children need exposure to nature and time to explore and adventure independently. But, I also feel like most of that should be accomplished outside of school? And that they need some structure and academic guidance during school. I’d like my kid to be able to read, do math AND love the forest. I don’t think those things are mutually exclusive. I think it’s dangerous to put too much focus on one or the other.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      wow, through sixth grade? that’s so surprising to me! i think these german forest schools seem to go up to 5 years old or so?

    • I live in Portland, and I totally agree with you!

    • Lauren says...

      Preschool, or Kindergarten “Kita”, goes until the children enter 1st grade, which is typically the fall of the calendar year they turn 6. Our kids are in a traditional Kita in central Berlin and they have a little structured time, but mostly play all day– outside in good weather. When it’s hot, the water pumps are turned on and they get so muddy. I spend the summer doing laundry. They go to the Grunewald twice a month for a forest day, but they also go to the opera, theater, and museums. Yay for city babies!!!

    • emma says...

      I thnik you are thinking of Waldorfschule (schools according to Rudolph Steiner) which are also very common in Germany and quite controversial, because it very much depends on the individual school whether or not they actually teach a curriculum with qualified teachers based on science instead of the anthrophosophical theories of Steiner which says the world originates in something called Atlantis (which also includes highly racist theories).
      They have Steiner-Kindergarten and schools which go up to class 11 (age 16) – for their high school diploma students have to take the state exams though (which is tough for many because they lack some basic knowledge due to the different curriculum in the earlier years).

    • I just had this exact conversation with my husband! I’m all for a natural, crunchy upbringing (within reason, I’m also a very big fan of modern medicine). I like for my children to spend a lot of time outside, to be unsupervised for unstructured play time, and to get dirty. I limit their screen time, and sugar intake, and all the other things we’re supposed to do these days, but I’m also raising kids within a specific society and that’s important too. In my opinion they also need to learn how to behave in a classroom setting, how to follow rules, and I even think it’s important that they understand pop culture references. Obviously, a three year old running wild through the wilderness is much different from an eleven year old not having structured class time, but I do think there is a balance that needs to be fostered. I want them to have a glorious and free childhood, but I’m ultimately raising them to be functioning adults.

    • Sarah says...

      Wow! I live in Portland as well and I don’t know anyone with a kid going to full time nature school. I have one friend who is homeschooling her kids (3-5) and they go to a nature school one morning a week. But it’s not going to be their full time school through 6th grade! I think that would be tough if they aren’t doing their academic studies at home. But maybe we shouldn’t assume they aren’t?

  106. Belle Dean says...

    We have wonderful forest schools right here in Brooklyn – one in Prospect Park (and also Central Park), and I believe there’s a co-op one in Fort Greene Park.
    http://brooklynforest.org/

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      these sound amazing!!! sadly, they’re so short — just a 90-minute session, and it seems like you sign up for just one day a week. would love a full preschool — this german school has daily sessions for 6+ hours. hopefully one day! :)

    • Frances says...

      Brooklyn forest is AMAZING. My son is 3 and it is our favorite part of the week. We started going just as he learned to walk!

    • JenMarie says...

      Our son spends most of the summer going to Brooklyn Nature Days. It’s a half day or full day in Prospect Park and the kids spend the whole time in the park no matter what: rain or shine. They do nature related art projects and read books and learn songs about nature. They go on exploration walks and also have lots of time to explore somewhat independently. It’s it’s very hot, the teachers make a big mud pit and the kids play in cooling mud all day. No matter what, they need a BIG bath when the day is done. I think they might also have a preschool.
      http://brooklynnaturedays.com/

    • Leah says...

      Inspired by Forest School, full-day Wbees Forest School in Williamsburg opened a few years ago. http://www.wbeesforestschool.com/

    • Jeni says...

      My daughter grew up going to Brooklyn Forest School and it has been some of her fondest memories! (She is now 7) I think it’s a fantastic program. I also know of a Waldorf outdoor preschool in Central Park that runs year round for 4 hours day (maybe 6 hours)? I can send contact info if anyone is interested, contact me privately.

  107. C.C. says...

    I grew up in a small town in Connecticut. During my elementary school years, our teachers regularly took us hiking around the woods surrounding our school, pointing out and identifying plants and bugs, salamanders in the creeks, etc. There was so much focus on the outdoors, and it was wonderful. I was also lucky enough to live around ponds and wooded areas, which were great places for my friends and I to explore. It helped that this was many years before smart phones, so we didn’t have dumb little devices to stare at all day. Growing up with easy access to nature is something every kid should experience.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s wonderful, cc!

    • Kathy says...

      Your comment about electronic devices reminded me of a friend’s experience. She recently went back to work as a preschool teacher (for a class of 3year olds) after a many year hiatus while her own kids were little, and she was shocked by how many times they complained that they were “too tired” to go outside and were loath to get dirty. They wanted to get back to the ipads and other devices they were used to playing on at home. How sad!

    • june2 says...

      @Cathy, my mother had to literally lock us outside, (though we had to stay within earshot) to get us to play outside and we would complain to high heaven then eventually give up and figure out how to play…it was torture then but we got used to it and now I am SO grateful as I have an indelibly strong connection to Nature that so enriches my life. I may never have had that had she catered to our lack of enthusiasm!

  108. Louise says...

    My children have all been going to the same Natur-Kindertagesstätte, so-called nature child care center here in Switzerland for 6 years (the oldest), 4 years and 6 months (the youngest). They have 3 forests that they visit on a regular basis: the dwarf’s forest, the witch’s forest and a forest called the pirate’s forest. Every evening when I peel the kids out of their rain gear, their fleeces or their wellingtons, I can smell what they have been up to: making a fire (when my oldest was 18 months he knew how to use matches yikes!) or collecting moss, rocks, wading around in the swampy part of the forest, or even collecting mushrooms. My three boys have been living a very adventurous childhood so far and I’m grateful to our daycare for that! I find that after a day at daycare they are rarely agitated or cranky, just tired from a great day with lots of freedom and wonderful discoveries outside.

    • Hana Kim says...

      So true about the kids’ moods and behavior at night! A full day of exploring and playing in nature seems to have a calming, happy effect with a desire to go to bed and rest.

  109. I love this. American schools need to be incorporating elements of this into the everyday curriculum.

    • Jenny says...

      I agree. Unfortunately, with our current focus on testing and teachers’ and schools’ evaluation based on the results, there is no time for this.

    • Free Forest School has a model that helps parents bring outdoor, child-directed learning to their children’s public school classrooms. Contact us for more information! freeforestschool@gmail.com