One of my Google Alerts picked up this article, “German Tots Learn to Answer Call of Nature” from The Wall Street Journal earlier in the week. From the article,
Each weekday, come rain or shine, a group of children, ages 3 to 6, walk into a forest outside Frankfurt to sing songs, build fires and roll in the mud. To relax, they kick back in a giant “sofa” made of tree stumps and twigs.
The birthplace of kindergarten is returning to its roots. While schools and parents elsewhere push young children to read, write and surf the Internet earlier in order to prepare for an increasingly cutthroat global economy, some little Germans are taking a less traveled path — deep into the woods.
Germany has about 700 Waldkindergärten, or “forest kindergartens,” in which children spend their days outdoors year-round. Blackboards surrender to the Black Forest. Erasers give way to pine cones. Hall passes aren’t required, but bug repellent is a good idea.
Trees are a temptation — and sometimes worse. Recently, “I had to rescue a girl” who had climbed too high, says Margit Kluge, a teacher at Idstein’s forest kindergarten. Last year, a big tree “fell right before our noses.”
The schools are a throwback to Friedrich Fröbel, the German educator who opened the world’s first kindergarten, or “children’s garden,” more than 150 years ago. Mr. Fröbel counseled that young children should play in nature, cordoned off from too many numbers and letters.
Interesting how the idea of kindergarten has changed, isn’t it? By the way, all three of my kids have either been stuck in, or fallen out of, a tree (in some cases, both), and it’s generally not a mistake they make twice. Outdoor schools aren’t anything new (back in 2003 The Christian Science Monitor ran an article about the “forest kindergartens”), but I’m glad to see that the idea is still striking a chord with North Americans, and that there those who believe that nature in general, and mud and winter in particular, are not to be avoided or endured but enjoyed and celebrated. It reminded me of the outdoor winter schools I’d read about perhaps 10 years ago, in one of the Scandinavian countries, Denmark or Sweden I think, where the children spent all day out of doors in the depths of winter — playing, learning, eating lunch, and even answering the call of nature too.
A bit of Googling and I found that Forest Schools have also become quite popular in the UK in the past 10 or so years. In 2006, all 49 pupils at Pott Row First School, Norfolk, received waterproof suits (I just love the accompanying photo of the child in the rain clutching a pencil); at the time the school’s goal was to provide half of all lessons outside within two years. In England you can find special weather gear at places such as Raindrops, which offers children’s outdoor clothing from Scandinavia. The company’s director, Nikki Horne, writes on the website,
Having a Finnish mother I spent many years in Finland and always admire how well dressed Scandinavian children are whilst playing outside – no matter the weather. It is not an unusual sight to see children dressed from head to toe and playing outside in thick snow or harsh rain in sub zero degrees. If the clothing is right there should be no reason why not to play outside in such conditions.