FAQ

What is a Forest Kindergarten?

A Forest Kindergarten is just that, a school in the forest! Forest Kindergartens and pre-schools are the U.S. version of the European concept of nature kindergartens ("Waldkindergarten") which have been popular in Germany, Switzerland and Scandinavia for decades. There are a growing number in the U.S. and we are on the cutting-edge of nature-based early childhood education!

Will my child be outside the whole time?

We are outside the vast majority of the time; however we do have access to several other places to go “in”, including a covered pavillion and kindergarten classroom that is heated and provides shelter when needed. Parents learn to dress their children for the weather, and children learn how to stay--or get--warm and dry. Our motto is, "There is no bad weather, only bad clothing." And remember:

Whether the weather is cold
Or whether the weather is hot
Whether the weather is fair
Or whether the weather is not
We'll weather the weather
Whatever the weather
Whether we like it or not.

Why should I consider an outdoor school? What does research say about Forest School Education?

Attending a Forest Kindergarten benefits students in the following areas...

Health Benefits

  • A Scandinavian study compared an outdoor preschool to a conventional day nursery that has a large traditional playground. The study found that the children attending the outdoor school had lower rates of illness, obesity, better concentration and better motor skills including but not limited to balance, hand strength, and agility. (Graham, Patrik, Martensson, Linblad, Nilsson, Ekman, 1997).

  • In the age of technology and social media, children and adolescents are now less likely to be physically active. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children are spending about seven hours per day either watching television, on the computer, using smart phones or other electronic devices. Research findings indicate that living a sedentary lifestyle (e.g. not being physically active and playing video games or watching television) can lead to increased risk for obesity, attention problems, and school difficulties (Limbers et al., 2008; Tomporowski et al., 2015).

  • Since 1970 nearsightedness (myopia) has increased by 65% in the US, with similar changes in other “developed countries”. Controlled research studies in Denmark have found that exposure to more daylight helps protect children FROM myopia! (Vitale, Sperduto, Ferris, 2009. Data from the Sydney Myopia Study, 2018) suggest that greater time spent outside can also over-ride the greater risk associated with near work and schooling. Sun provides vitamin D which has been shown to enhance eye development. Eyes are exercised with repeated looking up-close and at distances in a natural setting.

Social-emotional Benefits

  • The stress-reducing effects of nature have been documented in adults in a large body of controlled experiments and the available evidence points to a similar effect in children. Nature has been related to lower levels of both self-reported and physiological measures of stress in children.( Chawla, 2015; Wiens et al., 2016)

  • Research supports the idea that connection to nature has been the motivation for positive behavior, linked to the feeling of being connected and part of a greater whole, or what Frantz and Mayer call the “we-ness” aspect (2013, p. 85). And lastly adult environmentalism has been shown to derive from deep and positive childhood experiences in nature” (Wells & Lekies, 2006).

  • The increase in the amount of homework, competition for good grades, fear of failure, peer-pressure and bullying are some of the more common reasons for stress in school (Allen & Klein, 1996). Anxiety over situations such as answering, and asking questions in class, attending social events, showing assertiveness, and being in front of peers can often times lead to avoidance of many different social situations, including school (Fisher, Masia-Warner, & Klein, 2004). Long-term avoidance of these situations can create behavior patterns that may interfere with developmental growth in adolescence (Albano, DiBartolo, Heimberg, & Barlow, 1995).

School Readiness

  • “Initial findings and studies in Europe suggest that children who go to Nature preschools and Forest Kindergartens are just as well prepared for kindergarten and 1st grade as their peers in a more traditional early childhood education programs.” The difference being, “the Nature students also developed persistence, determination, collaboration and cooperation skills, in addition to being more physically active. More grit – more self-reliance, persistence and ability to stay on task. And grit, we’re learning, may be a better predictor of school success then academic test scores.” (Miller, 2009)

  • Graduates of German forest kindergartens had a “clear advantage” over the graduates of regular kindergartens, performing better in cognitive and physical ability, as well as in creativity and social development. (Hafner, 2003)

Character Development

  • Being in nature is an invitation for children to become mindful and still. In this state, they can listen to their own thoughts, identify their feelings and find their own place in the world. By understanding themselves, they are better able to practice empathy, kindness and compassion towards others and towards nature (Schein 2012).

  • Spiritual development is seen as a way to support a child’s sense of self, which leads to an exploration of their surroundings. Wonderment helps to give meaning to their intrapersonal and interpersonal experiences, (Gardner 1999). From this awareness a child develops a will, motivation, ethical understanding, and a sense of responsibility (Montessori 1967; Kagan 2004).

What about ticks?

Ticks and tick-borne illness have become a fact of life in our area. The fact is, you can’t avoid ticks by not playing in the woods. They also like lawns and woodchip-covered areas. If you have pets that come in from outside, they may bring ticks in with them. No one in our area can escape the need for regular (at least once a day) full-body tick checks whenever the temperature is above freezing. We visually scan each child for ticks once every morning and remove any non-attached ticks we find.
Here are some valuable resources of how to protect your child from ticks.
http://www.childrenslymenetwork.org/children-lyme/prevention/

What about snakes?

Yes, we have encountered snakes on our school campus over the past decade. No, they have not harmed any students. This is one of the major reasons why we ask students to always wear close-toed shoes and proper footwear. Rattlesnakes are widespread in California and are found in a variety of habitat. They may also turn up around homes and yards in brushy areas and under wood piles. Generally not aggressive, rattlesnakes will likely retreat if given room or not deliberately provoked or threatened. Most bites occur when a rattlesnake is handled or accidentally touched by someone walking or climbing.

Our staff is committed to doing safety checks every morning before children arrive to ensure that our outdoor surroundings are safe.

What about poison oak?

Poison oak, or toxicodendron diversilobum, is the West Coast cousin of poison ivy. The leaves of both plants are covered by an oil called urushiol, which causes a red, bumpy, itchy rash that takes at least ten days to recede.

Though a lucky few are immune, contact with poison oak can result in a range of reactions, from mild itching to severe, life-threatening systemic inflammation.

Poison oak is something children will likely encounter when being out on hikes and occasionally even on campus. We spend a considerable amount of time to educate children about the danger of poison oak and how they can identify it early in the school year.

The motto is: Leaves of three, let it be.

What does my child need to bring?

Children should come dressed appropriately for the weather. A gear and supply list is part of your child's registration packet. At our orientation in the beginning of the school year we will go over what to wear as well. Additionally, children should come with plenty of water, a healthy lunch and snacks to keep them comfortable for an active day outside.

Click on this link for a more detailed list.

Will my child be ready for first grade?

Yes, we believe so. Research indicates that one of the most important skills for entering first grade are social-emotional skills.
Self-care skills, listening to others in a group setting, managing conflict while playing with others, making transitions smoothly, and self-regulation skills are all prominent in the forest preschool setting. The outdoor environment and our child-led curriculum provide myriad opportunities for cooperation, collaboration, conflict management, and the development of emotional resilience.
Cognitive scientists say imaginative play with few or no props builds a skill set called "executive function", which is a better predictor of school success than IQ (from an NPR report titled “Old Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills”, February 20, 2008). It is well-known that physical activity is essential for healthy brain and nervous system development (see, for example, Teaching With the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen). Recognizing patterns in nature may translate to recognizing letters and words, and being able to develop a mental picture while listening to stories told orally is an important pre-reading skill. The importance of nature play for academic success is now so clear that author Richard Louv wrote a column in September 2014 titled, “Want Your Kids to Get Into Harvard? Tell ‘Em to Go Outside!”