Early years education in the forest: learning without ceiling or walls

Image: xavier gallego morell / Shutterstock.com

Many schools, particularly in urban centres, only have small closed-off playgrounds, with little access to nature. Luckily, many schools and kindergartens now have the opportunity to literally go into the woods.

Germany today has over 1500 nature and forest kindergartens where children are encouraged to play, explore and learn in a forest or other natural environment. The idea has been replicated in neighbouring countries, and today there are associations in the UK and Switzerland: Forest School Association, Chouette-Forêt, and Waldkindergarten respectively. Not only do forest kindergartens allow children to reconnect with nature, they also teach them how to play together, how to be inquisitive, creative and innovative, and how to respect their environment.

Another inspiring example was initiated by a Lebanese Palestinian artist called Yasmine Eid-Sabbagh in Mallorca, Spain. When Yasmine moved to Bunyola, a little village, she did not want her children to spend their time in a dark room playing on plastic floors when there was a big forest next to them. Due to her motivating the locals, and thanks to their help, now up to fifteen children aged from 2 to 6 play outdoors and explore the forest every day. Read more here in Spanish or French.

Not every school has the luxury of being located next to a forest, but supporters believe that this should not stop the school from bringing nature closer. The Belgian initiative called “Ose le vert, recrée ta cour” (Dare the green, recreate your playground) shows that embedding nature and biodiversity in school life has only benefits. It makes children more aware of the environment and engages them in pedagogical projects about it – or it simply makes school yards more enjoyable places to play in. Schools can take part in a call for projects to make their playgrounds green; see the selected schools 2016-2017 here