The rapid growth of technology in our society has inevitably made its way into classrooms, spurred on by educators across the nation.
School districts continue to find ways to integrate technology into their lesson plans and equip classrooms with computers, iPads, and SMART Boards.
However, there is a movement of teachers and schools that is unplugging from technology and staying closer to nature.
Waldkindergärten, translated as “forest kindergarten,” is a concept that began in Sweden. Its main purpose is to foster a learning environment through discovery and play in outdoor settings. There are now over 1,000 forest kindergartens in Germany, as well as schools in England, Denmark, and Switzerland. They have even found their way onto American soil.
The forest kindergarten at the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs in New York is one of a few schools in the United States that encourages children as young as 3 years old to learn in “classrooms” littered with branches and leaves. Classes are in session regardless of the weather.
“We cultivate academic knowledge, artistic work, and practical skills in our students,” said Matthew Kopans, director of community relations and development for the Waldorf school.
The kindergarten aims to inspire imagination in the children, as well as a lifelong love for learning and a reverence for life.
“Our goal is to educate so that our graduates are confident and eager to enter a life of individual initiative and social responsibility,” said Kopans. “Our school fosters moral strength so that the qualities of truth, beauty, and goodness permeate the human spirit.”
In 2011, Joy Holder and Charlie Foster founded Brooklyn Forest as a small class in the woods of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Since its establishment, the school has engaged hundreds of children and families across Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn.
“We want your child’s first class to be filled with wonder,” reads the Brooklyn Forest website. “And we believe a wonderful childhood starts with imaginative play and a supportive community; with a meaningful connection to nature and wildlife; with vigorous physical work and nourishing food; with simple rhythms and constant singing; with feeling at home in the forest.”
Evidence shows that outdoor education has a positive impact on students. Parents have reported that they’ve noticed changes in the overall health of their children and have witnessed increased confidence, independence, and social skills, according to research by Urban Forestry and Urban Greening detailing the benefits of forest schools.
Kopans credits nature for its ability to foster ongoing opportunities for learning.
“Always changing, nature provides new problems to solve and situations to explore depending on the season and weather,” he said. “The Forest Kindergarten features numerous forested hiking trails and ample yard space for gardening, digging, playing, and working.”
A 9-week session that runs from July 7 to Sept. 1 costs $375 at Brooklyn Forest. The enrollment for the Grand Army Plaza forest classroom has reached its capacity. There is still space available for the Long Meadow forest classroom here.