While reading How to Raise a Wild Child by Scott D. Sampson, I came to learn about the concept of a “forest school.” What is a forest school? Forest schools are schools that operate entirely or almost entirely outdoors, year round, no matter the weather, and kids spend the majority of their time there playing. According to Sampson, forest schools, also known as forest kindergartens or nature preschools, have existed in Europe for many years but have been popping up more and more now in North America too.
As a family that greatly values time spent in nature in all kinds of weather, as well as a mom who recognizes the importance and beauty of mixed-age play, I thought a program like this would be a great fit for us. Of course, I thought we would have to move to Vermont or Portland, OR to find one. To my surprise and delight there are forest schools right here in Brooklyn! If there is a forest school right here in the concrete jungle, chances are there is one by you too. If not, and you are feeling entrepreneurial, what a market opportunity!
My children, who have never been to traditional school before, love their forest school. They love their teachers and I love hearing about their day when they get home. Often it involves battle re-enactments, stick swords and for my daughter, mud. They love singing while they are there and eating snack with their friends. They are so happy when I pick them up and so tired when we get home! Our house is always so peaceful the afternoon after forest school and bedtime is so quick!
What forest school is not, is cheap. I realize it is a luxury to be able to send our kids there even just one day a week on a single income. We’ve rearranged our budget to prioritize it; it’s that important to us.
Yes, I could take them to play outside and it would be free. But, the drop-off component appeals to us – our children having this type of experience away from mom and dad. Also, as much as I love getting out there in all kinds of weather, it’s very easy to stay inside if it’s cold and rainy or windy and snowy. But, if I’m paying for it and my kids are looking forward to it – it ensures they are out there! It also ensures other kids will be out there with them. I’ve brought my kids to the park many, many times when we have been the only people there! So this program checks a box in the socialization department too.
Also, for city kids without a private yard, a forest school program ensures they have a connection to nature on a consistent basis. Suburban and rural parents have the luxury of opening their back door to send their kids outside. We do not. Aside from forest school, if I want my kids to play outside, I have to walk them to the park and be outside with them. Again, this is something I do, often. But it’s nice for them to get to play outside without me sometimes too. It’s also nice for me to have a little break without the kids once a week. I cherish our time together but I also know having time to myself is essential for my mental health and overall well-being.
A further bonus to forest school is that, according Sampson, “studies show that kids in these schools experience fewer accidents and are more adept at assessing risk. They also tend to rate well above average academically, including in reading and in math and their teachers find them to be more curious and motivated.”
For more information about forest schools, check out the booklist in the Booklists section of the blog. There is a forest school section on the Inspirational Homeschool Reads list. If you’re looking for a great, in-depth look at forest schooling check out the title, Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens: The Handbook for Outdoor Learning by David Sobel. If you’re looking to find out more about how beneficial time spent in nature is, particularly for young children, check out Balanced and Barefoot by Angela J. Hanscom; it is one of my all-time favorite books on the topic of kids in nature.
Do you have a forest school near you? Had you heard of this type of school before? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.
P.S. Yes, for any other PBS Kids Dinosaur Train lovers, Scott D. Sampson is, in fact, Dr. Scott!
Below are some affiliate links to the books referenced above.