It is a reality that kids in the U.S. are spending less time outside than previous generations. Starting in kindergarten, time spent outside is limited than ever before. Some educators are breaking out of standard classroom teaching go out in nature.
There is a forest school in Switzerland where kids spend all day, every day, out in the woods. They learn more than just typical classroom material – they participate in lessons and experiences that shape their minds. Rain, shine, or freezing cold, these young kindergarten head to the woods to the school they built with nature’s material at hand.
Even learning outdoors, children still need their playtime. There are many activities that they would not be allowed or capable of doing in a classroom. They yell, throw things, and build with nature’s toys: rocks, leaves and trees.
After all is said and done, there are still formal lessons to be taught to these young minds. Studies such as; painting using natural materials and making letters out of sticks. The teachers take real-world skills and facts, putting it together in a way that teaches the students to think in a complex manner. The apply critical thinking to building a dam with teamwork, at the same time, having to think about staying dry and warm.
There are very few rules in the woods. Take care of yourself. Take care of others. Don’t wander too far away. Those are the basics.
The objective of this style of teaching is to let kids experience independence and help learn self-regulation skills that are important to becoming a successful adult.
“It’s 33 degrees out. He’s sitting in water. And he’s going to figure out whether that becomes uncomfortable or not,” notes a Forest School teacher, adding, “I don’t need to make a rule for him. He’s going to figure that out. This is a place where he can learn to take care of himself.”
In the U.S., there are few similar programs, however Outdoor Education meets the science standards in many states. A Pali Institute, the customizable outdoor education program for grades 4 – 12 allows students to spend 3-5 days in over 30 class modules. The program stresses the student’s independence, leadership and science learning, stepping into the woods and closer to nature.