The idea of the first Forest Kindergarten or Daycare in the woods comes from Scandinavia. In the mid-1950’s, a Danish woman name Ella Flatau founded the first outdoor Kindergarten. From there it spread quickly in the 1990s. There are now around 2,000 “Waldkindergarten” of this sort in Germany. These are mostly state-approved daycares, and only trained educators work here. The groups have names such as Forest Spirits, Tree Frogs or Ladybugs.
No walls, no roof, no toys: the waiting lists for Forest Kindergartens are getting longer and longer. What is it about the trend? For which children is this outdoors daycare a good idea, and for which children is not?
A Kindergarten that is in the middle of nature sounds almost anachronistic in 2021. At a time when many parents are concerned about the education and the best possible promotion of their offspring, sometimes they prefer to send them to English or violin lessons before school age.
More and more parents are favoring the alternative and are interested in a Forest Kindergarten.
Examples of children’s creativity
The Forest Kindergarten is a popular concept in Germany and beyond. An experience in nature from an early age on. Gone are the days when playing in the forest without industrial toys that was considered a crazy idea for parents with an alternate touch. The sometimes long waiting lists are proof.
There are more and more children who live in Metro areas without space to play outside. For many parents it is important that their children do not grow up with digital toys and equipment, but in close contact with nature. The age of the children is three to six years old that come in the morning to the Forest Kindergarten with the perfect outdoor equipment: In their backpack is a pillow, a drinking bottle and a snack for the break outside in the forest.
There are only toys that nature has to offer. If you watch the children, you can quickly see that nothing more is needed. Nature offers enough materials for the imagination. Self-baked (mud) rolls and sand cakes are on offer in the grocery store, with money in the form of flower petals. The little knights practice taming horses and carving new swords. And the girls cook a magic soup made of sand, flowers and pieces of wood.
All together great exercises in terms of creativity and imagination! There are various creative handicraft ideas with materials from nature. Handicrafts with chestnuts for example. You can do a lot of things with chestnuts – not just chestnut men.
As in every Kindergarten, there are opportunities for role play and free play, some activities are designed for the entire group, others only for a small group. And while playing, the little ones get to know the diversity of nature in a playful way. They know what wet leaves smell like, and what it feels like to wade barefoot through the stream.
They practice balance, climb trees and build their own toys from very simple things. In this type of kindergarten there is no prescribed method of teaching. The change in the seasons, holistic learning and the childrens real experiences (so-called primary experience) is important. Children are learning as many plant and animal names as possible, they should be able to have their questions answered by observing and experimenting directly in nature.