Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wood (Forest) Kindergarten

I'm currently reading Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from Nature Deficit Disorder, an astute book which talks about how children today are removed from genuine interaction with nature for many reasons: move from rural to urban areas and increasing loss of natural spaces in cities; parent concerns with inherent dangers of natural spaces; liability issues around children playing in natural, uncontrolled areas; increase of technology for play (computers, internet, tv, video games, etc); reduced natural play in school programs (e.g. elimination of recess in some schools); and so on. Throughout the book children in various parts of the US are interviewed regarding their interaction with nature. It becomes obvious that children are losing touch with "free" creative play associated with natural areas - a great loss when knowing that playing outside for prolonged periods has been shown to have a positive impact on children's development, especially manual dexterity, physical coordination, tactile sensitivity, depth perception, as well as strengthened immune system. The interviews also indicate that children are far less aware of their local flora and fauna (compared to their parents generation), yet know more about rainforests in distant places as taught in geography classes. What's more, the teaching on environmental issues such as rainforest depletion tends to take on a pessimistic tone, that has a distancing effect when learned from a textbook rather than experientally celebrating what is vibrant locally. The book advocates for environmental education to also include time outdoors, right here right now, as a way to build children's hope and care for the earth through local knowledge and hands-on relationship with common as well as endangered plants and animals.

This sentiment goes well with another article I just read, telling the history of the Wald Kingergarten (or Forest/Wood Kingergarten). It was created in the 1950s in Denmark, by a woman named Ella Flautau who often spent time with her own and neighbours' children in a nearby forest, as a form of daycare which generated great interest among the neighbourhood parents. The parents formed a group and created an initiative to establish the first Wood Kindergarten. Since then, the idea has spread to other Scandinavian countries and beyond.

Wood Kindergartens existed in Germany since the 1960s, but were first officially recognized as a form of daycare in 1993, which allowed for state subsidies to reduce the fees of children attending these Wood Kingergartens. Since then, the Wood Kindergartens have become increasingly popular. As of 2005 there were approximately 450 Wood Kindergartens in Germany, some of which offer a mix of Wood Kindergarten and traditional daycare, spending their mornings in the forest and afternoons inside. The daycare workers and children spend their time outdoors, in a forest, meadow, or on a beach. Another distinctive feature of Wood Kindergartens is the emphasis on play with toys that are fashioned out of objects that can be found in nature, rather than commercial toys. Despite these differences, Wood Kindergartens are meant to fulfill the same basic purpose as other preschools, namely, to care for, stimulate, and educate young children.The Wood Kindergarten aims to counter the lack of connection to nature, as well as the over-protection and lack of risk in everyday life, and the health threats of childhood obesity.

Though we don't have a Wald Kindergarten here, I am determined to take Maya on a walk each day rain or shine, and introduce her to the wild places, parks, gardens, plants and trees here in the city. Perhaps a Forest Group could be formed with other parents who have the same interests in celebrating our natural spaces here in the city with our children.

The author of Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv, is actually coming to speak in Burlington on November 21 at 7 pm. He'll be speaking at the Royal Botanical Gardens (680 Plains Road West) as part of an environmental event - see for more details. This event is part of "Back to Nature" a strategic planning initiative being led by RBG that brings youth development and environmental organizations together to look at how to reconnect Ontario's children to nature.

No comments:

Post a Comment