More and more research is emerging that shows the benefits of educating young children in the outdoors. Many European countries, particularly Nordic ones have brought education, especially for kindergarten, into the woods. Lina Takahashi reports on one such school that’s right here in Colorado.
The Wee Folk Forest Kindergarten is a recently opened “rain or shine”, entirely outdoor preschool and kindergarten for children ages 3 to 6 years old. Located in East Boulder, this school allows children to learn and explore the beauty of the outside world while touching, feeling, and playing with everything themselves. Elizabeth Ulrich, the director of the Wee Folk Forest Kindergarten says the main driving force behind the forest school model is just to get children out into nature and to allow them the space and the time to build a relationship with nature and to connect.
“The effects that the forest has, or really just being outside, the effects that being outside has on the child, I mean there’s just tons of benefits. They really calming to the nervous system, they’re not seeing really instances of ADHD in children who come out of these forest school.s They do better academically because they’ve kept their critical thinking skills and there’s a lot of opportunities to collaborate in this type of environment so they’re constantly having to work together to build a fort or to build a bridge or to cross over a ditch or whatever it is.”
Research from the Children and Nature Network strongly suggests that time in nature can help many children learn to build confidence in themselves; reduce the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, calm children, and help them focus. Children marked as ADHD have symptoms of being hyperactive and impulsive, both of which Ulrich believes that children should have the freedom to do and learn from while they are young.
“Allowing children to take appropriate risks, you know, this is partly what’s so brilliant about this kind of opportunity for them you know they are allowed to take appropriate risks and that just sets them up for later in life.”
Ulrich says that providing a nature based learning experience for young children will set them up for a lifetime of loving the outdoors. “It’s really about exposure. so the more that you make these regular opportunities to get into nature, the more that it’s a part of the child’s, really their language of growing up, like “This is what we do, we go outside, we hang out outside. It’s okay that it’s snowing, it’s okay that it’s raining, we go outside”