Although not the most common kind of daycare in Germany, forest kindergarten (Waldkindergarten) is an increasingly popular form of daycare for young children to play, explore, and learn outside before having to start school when they turn 6 years old.
Forest kindergartens have existed in Germany for nearly 50 years and are a state-recognized form of daycare. Today, there are over 1,000 forest kindergartens throughout Germany.
For the past three years, I have lived across the street from a fairly large piece of forest with a large stream running through it. I regularly walk and jog through this forest, but I was quite surprised one morning, when during my walk, I came across a group of little kids hitting trees with sticks. What the heck is going on here? Where are there parents? Isn’t it too cold to be outside?
I’m a cynical American, if you can’t tell. It turns out, these kids belonged to the local forest kindergarten called “the forest turnips” (die Waldrüben). And as the name suggests, forest kindergartens are held exclusively outside—no matter the weather. However, this particular group does have a construction trailer…
Here is a translation from the Forest Turnips’ bulletin board, which describes how their program is run:
Our group consists of 15 children between 3 and 6 years old, and they are guided by two teachers. The group meets each day at 8:00 a.m. at our construction trailer in the forest.
The day starts with a morning circle at 8:30 a.m., where the kids greet each other, sing, and plan the day. After this, the group goes to one of their many play areas in the forest where they will eat breakfast together and begin an activity such as climbing, building, sawing, whittling, crafting, reading, singing, exploring, and more…
If you are like me, then you are probably thinking, “Sawing? Whittling? What, are they really giving 3-6 year-olds knives?” And the answer is yes. Yes, they are.
I was pretty shocked one of the first times I walked through the forest and saw the forest children with little pocket knives, cutting branches in order to build a bridge. When I later asked Marco about it, though, he acted like it wasn’t a big deal. “I always had a knife as a kid so that I could do things like make spears and play with sticks in the forest.” Well, okay then.
Don’t believe me? Just check out the kids in this video:
My local Waldkindergarten includes this notice on their bulletin board as well:
Experiencing the stillness and noises of the forest promotes inner peace and concentration skills in the children. Unlike traditional day care centers, there is no over-stimulation in the forest. Without prefabricated toys, every child has the possibility to create their own toys and games by using their own creativity and imagination.
Here are some of their play areas that I discovered on my recent walk through the forest. I regularly come across tipis (or is it teepees?) and bridges that the kids have built. You can see that they even have their own hand-made bows and arrows!
|I also came across this awesome zip line in the forest, but I don’t think it belongs to the forest kindergarten|
What do you think? Would you send your child to a Waldkindergarten?