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Waldkindergarten in Germany

Originally appears in the Fall 2011 issue

The Waldkindergarten, or Forest Kindergartens, are outdoor schools for young children ages three (sometimes as young as two) to six. These schools have no walls; children are outside in the woods all day, in all seasons and in all weather. The focus is on play using only what is found in nature, thus nurturing fantasy play, creativity and a heightened sensitivity to the earth. The modern Waldkindergarten movement originated in the 1950s and gained widespread popularity in Denmark during the 1970s. Waldkindergarten are now found in Norway, Sweden and Germany. Since the 1990s, they have become very increasingly popular in Germany; about 700 now exist across the country.

Studies have found that, compared with those who attend traditional preschool/kindergarten, children who attend Waldkindergarten are healthier, have stronger immune systems and fewer allergies, develop a greater sense of self, and develop a greater sense of empathy towards nature and others (Gorges 2002). Proponents say that the focus on play, exploration and discovery without adult intervention or formal instruction helps children develop their inner self. Children are not distracted by what adults want them to learn, and concentrate instead on self-knowledge, self-confidence and self-reliance. Children plan, organize, investigate, and explore on their own. Children also learn to collaborate with their peers and develop a sense of community belonging and responsibility.

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Amanda Kane is an early childhood educator who has taught at Burgundy Farm Country Day School in Alexandria, Virginia. This year she has explored different early childhood learning models, including the Reggio approach in Reggio Emilia, Italy; Waldkindergarten near Dusseldorf, Germany; and Forest Schools in Shropshire, England. Judy Kane is a retired teacher, and was also assistant head of school and curriculum director at Burgundy Farm Country Day School in Alexandria VA. She is interested in non-traditional approaches to learning, and in sharing ideas with fellow educators and parents about why and how children need to play, and of the importance of having opportunities to develop empathy, to learn conflict management skills, and to practice metacognition.