Last week, I and my colleagues were lucky enough to visit a forest kindergarten here in Prague. The space they had was truly amazing and it was great to see this educational method in practice.
I’ve been interested in forest kindergartens and outdoor education for a while now and I was really excited to go to visit.
When we arrived we were greeted by the school’s owner and she showed us around the space and walked us through what takes place during their days.
As it’s September and some children are still adapting to their new school, we didn’t gt to see the daily routine in practice, but there’s always next time! Prague Forest kindergartens are part of an association and part of the “membership” is visiting and learning which is something I’d like to do a lot more of.
As you may imagine, in a forest kindergarten, most of the daily activities take place outside. Except for eating and some indoor activities while younger children are sleeping in the afternoon.
The only indoor facilities were a classroom/lunch room (the green building in the picture above), and a wooden snack room. The owner informed us that the only time they are inside is for lunch and snack times, and for some activities while the younger children sleep.
The sleeping area was like nothing I had ever seen! Handmade wooden beds with sheep skin linings lay in a covered, semi-outdoor building. This isn’t quite my “cup of tea” but I was assured the children slept fantastically in this fresh air!
The rest of the school is completely outdoors and the children are free to roam, play, learn, and discover as they wish. This is the part of it that I really like and would love to incorporate into my dream school (fingers still crossed about this!).
There was a beautiful mud kitchen where the children had real pots and pans – all adult-sized and nothing plastic at all!
I saw a child climbing up the mud kitchen and observed as a teacher told them to get down. This prompted me to ask: “why didn’t you let him climb?”. The answer: “we don’t climb on the mud kitchen. That’s the rule”. The children were not given an explanation, they just need to understand that there are boundaries.
This was so interesting for me! I have researched forest kindergartens a lot but, as I say, this is the first one I’ve seen in person. I was pleased that the children have boundaries and understand rules, just as they do in a “regular” kindergarten/preschool. It’s not quite as “free” as one may think, and this got me even more interested in forest kindergartens! This surely can be transferred to a more traditional preschool!
You know that I am a big fan of child-led learning and independence and I could see this so much at the forest kindergarten. The children were really able to amuse themselves while learning and discovering. There was even an area where the children could construct a shelter themselves!
The children could plant vegetables and were able to eat them. They had an apple tree where they could pick apples themselves. And with all this there were still rules!
The owner explained to us that the children need to be aware of their community (in the school). This meant that yes, you can go and get an apple from the tree but you must ask first. You can eat a tomato but think about all your other peers who would like to do so as well. These were rules and guidelines that allowed the children to be autonomous but also to understand and stick to boundaries. It was really excellent to see.
One boy, when his mum arrived, asked if he could pick an apple from the tree. When he was given permission, he scaled a ladder and chose an apple. His friend, after also asking permission, fetched a bag/basket on a stick which he used to collect the apples for him and his friend. The teamwork! The confidence! Absolutely fantastic.
Applying this to “traditional” preschools
There are so many things that we saw at this forest kindergarten that we wanted to use ourselves.
Firstly, spending time outside and truly getting to know your surroundings is a great experience for children. In my outdoor learning posts, I speak about the health and social benefits of time outside and this is definitely something I’d like to have in my school one day.
Next, the child-led learning: this can be put into practice with children of any age, I believe, as it is about what interests them. As teachers, we can give children the skills and the confidence to lead their own learning.
Independence is very important and children appreciate being trusted. This is easily transferred from forest kindergartens to a traditional preschool too!
I will be visiting more forest kindergartens and I’m sure my colleagues will be doing so as well. I know we all were inspired by this education method and saw that it can be used in a more traditional setting.
If I may include you in my dream for a moment: can you imagine a preschool in the centre of a city that uses the benefits of outdoor education, and takes inspiration from forest kindergartens?
Hopefully this won’t always be just a dream of mine 🙂
What do you think?
Have you ever visited or researched forest kindergartens? Have I maybe sparked an interest in them for you? Are you “on board” with the benefits of outdoor education?
And, lastly, wouldn’t you like t see a centrally located preschool that incorporates the methods and practices of forest kindergartens?
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