This is the Early Education Movement That Will Have You Questioning Academic Preschools!

Winter Forest Sunset
A February sunset in Mt. Airy Forest

by Mr. Jay

Get ready for early education to shift paradigms, away from standardized content, towards student centered, play based curriculum. While Common Core and state standards are becoming a fixture in public education, and the focus is on testing, student centered learning and connections to the natural world through play-based curriculum are in danger of being left out of early education. While the need to have standards is important to assess the quality of education, homogenizing curriculum isn’t the answer. In fact, individualizing and customizing education is what will ultimately raise the overall quality of education. Plus, there is plenty of research to support the idea that children’s cognitive development benefits from free play and adult led play. Parents want highly qualified teachers and solid pedagogy, and they don’t want to see their children get left behind. Well, how about no child left inside?

Outdoor Classroom and Playground
There is no better classroom, or playground than the natural environment!

Consider the foundation for learning to be the rock on which your child’s education is built. Early childhood programs are no longer a babysitter for while you’re at work, but a comprehensive educational environment in which children become students of life! It is vital that children’s early school experiences are full of joy and foster a lifelong love of learning. Outdoor education embraces a student led approach, valuing free play and organized play as a fundamental approach to early education.

 

Joyful Outdoor Collaboration
Children enjoy a game, collaborating, imagining, sharing, and having fun!

When we expect our children to learn to read and do math before they are ready, we deprive them of the opportunities to experience the world in their own way and in their own time. Save academics for first grade, and let preschoolers develop social skills and explore the world in an experimental, hands-on approach. Allow children time to play outside and in the woods as much as possible, engaging their curiosity, enriching their experiences, and exploring their world.

If you still feel you need a reason to ditch academic preschools, here are four from Janet Lansbury.

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What is a Forest School?

by Mr. Jay

Forest schools, or waldkindergartens, as they are called in Europe, are early childhood preschool/kindergartens, where a majority of the activities take place in an outdoor setting, preferably, in the woods. Of course, each one is different, and there are many factors to take into account. An accessible woodland suitable for exploring and playing, along with a suitable shelter for extreme weather, is important. The children should become comfortable with an outdoor approach to education by introducing them to the woods gradually. A park or private lot near the woods, where children can be educated and play in familiar surroundings becomes the base. From here, the relationship with the Forest School teachers can build trust as the children develop self confidence in the outdoors. When they are ready, the teacher(s) can lead a group to familiarize themselves with the trail into the woods. These initial outings allow the children to explore the woodlands while establishing physical and behavioral boundaries. Once the safety procedures, hygiene, and routines are in place, a child-led approach to projects can take place.

nature explorers
Ms. Lee leads some nature explorers!

First, the basic needs of the children should be met (Maslow’s Pyramid of Hierarchical Needs). The children should be dressed properly in order to keep warm and dry in all types of weather. Healthy snacks and/or meals should be available, as well as plenty of water or warm drinks. Of course, the safety of the children, both physically and emotionally, is of utmost importance. Once these are taken care of, the learning and fun can begin!

 

Creek Explorers
Chilly morning creek explorers!

Circle time is the highlight of the day, with hand and finger gestures accompanying simple songs. Snacks and meals can be a pleasure, when eaten outdoors with friends. Learning about plants, trees, birds, and animals can be so much fun, too! Children learn to recognize evidence of animals: tracks, scat, or food remains. They learn to identify fossils. Social skills are strengthened, physical skills are honed, and mental skills are built up. Learner-led, play-based, and nature-immersion are the foundations of a Forest School.

Snowy sunset
A panorama of sunset in Mt. Airy Forest with snow on the ground.

Of course, if you’d like to learn more about Little Schoolhouse in the Woods, or find out how to contact them, you can click here.

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