Educational Theory, School Design

Kindergarten Forestry

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Forest kindergartens: is there anything cooler?

Instead of stepping on Legos, kids are crunching crispy autumn leaves underfoot. Gone are Powerpoints, iWhatevers, and just-begging-to-be-broken definitely-cognitively-age-appropriate expensive gadgets in favour of trees higher than the eyes can see and captivating bug communities hiding under rocks. Forest Kindergartens are exactly what they sound like, and just plain UNEQUIVOCALLY AMAZING!

Well, actually. Are they really?

In my most recent obsessive pedagogical internet search, I came to meet the idea of Forest Kindergartens…. And like the good cynic I am, I instantly searched for critiques on them.

In short- what I can’t get out of my head is the notion that this instructional strategy may be challenging to implement due to insurmountable cultural boundaries and/or the inability to tap into and recreate the socially constructed reality inherent in the original Forest Kindergarten model, which was founded in Scandinavian countries.

The most compelling (and most free / easily-accessed) cynical article that presented this idea was written by a resident of the UK (Mark Leather), and he asserted that the Scandinavian philosophy of friluftsliv (or “free air life”) is largely responsible for the success of forest kindergartens in Scandinavian countries. Reading about friluftsliv in this critique inspired me to seek more clarity on what this philosophy was. I watched a fun Vimeo created by a Scottish journalist (Charlotte Workman) on the concept. Workman’s video is a blend of dogsledding, skiing, and a blend of living with the rhythms of nature. In researching friluftsliv, Workman explains “By living in a world of vast urbanisation, straight lines and electric lighting, we create a dis-harmony (or more correctly, discord) between nature’s rhythms and our own natural rhythms. We evolved in a world of ‘fractal’ structures: waves, mountains, fire, alongside seasonal rhythms, daily rhythms and different kinds of biological rhythms. These structures and rhythms are ingrained in us as we have evolved.”

I wonder– what cultural norms might the UK (or the US or China) have that forest kindergarten teachers/facilitators might tap into in order to successfully weave the concepts of forest kindergarten (play, exploration, and learn in a natural environment)? What cultural norms might be hard to transcend (rules, fences, etc.)?

[Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash]