In German, the word waldkinder (pronounced as if the W were a V) means children of the forest. In Europe, waldkindergartens abound, many having no building at all but spending their days with the children in the forest, regardless of weather. The concept of the waldkindergarten has been around since the 1960s; however, the movement is only beginning in America. Carbondale, Colorado’s Waldkinder Preschool is the fifth established program in the U.S.
Waldkinder Preschool’s mission is on target with current studies that point to direct experience in nature as essential for a child’s healthy physical and emotional development. Responsible in part for the increased national activism to ‘leave no child inside,’ Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, writes, “. . . the child in nature is an endangered species, and the health of children and the health of the Earth are inseparable.” There is a national effort to promote a ‘green hour’ in each day. The Washington Post writes about a focus on Capitol Hill, in state legislative action, in grass-roots projects, and through a U.S. Forest Service initiative to get more children into the woods. Carbondale’s Waldkinder Preschool, a non-profit early childhood education school, is committed to helping grow this movement, which is quickly catching fire in the U.S. Waldkinder Preschool will have not only a “green hour”, but green days, allowing exploration in the woods, the snow, the water and the garden every day.
As a mother, educator and Carbondale Waldkinder’s founder I have always held the belief that spending time in nature improves children’s health, stimulates creativity, sharpens thinking skills and creates well-adjusted children who will care about our planet. Like Louv, I believe everything a preschooler needs to know can be learned outside; even incorporating ‘indoor’ activities like reading aloud to the children when taking breaks from their daily outings. Carbondale’s Waldkinder Preschool will bring kids face to face to what I believe are universal values of kindness, respect for each other as part of the greater environment, reusing and recycling items found in nature for artistic and functional purposes, and finding pleasure in good work.
What We Do
As part of our program Waldkinder students, ages three to five years old, will be expected to carry what they need in a backpack each day. We eat lunch outside as often as possible, sometimes in the rain, sometimes in the snow. We climb trees and boulders, turn over rocks and logs and handle the living creatures we find there. We wear our rain boots and stomp through puddles and play in the mud; wade through streams and bathe in clear pools and hot springs; plant seeds in the garden, tend them and watch them grow into delicacies that we will taste. We watch chicks hatch from eggs in our chicken coop, we collect eggs from the chicken coop and eat them!
At Waldkinder Preschool, children learn the names of native flowers and plants, rivers and hiking trails we frequent. They learn how many turns there are in the trail to their favorite picnic spot and how many minutes it takes to get there in the warm summer and how many in the snow. In the winter they learn how to stay warm in the cold, how to sled down big hills and build snow forts. In the summer they learn to swim and where their food comes from by tending a chicken coop, a garden and by visiting local educational gardens. But most importantly, children learn the self-sufficiency and responsibility hard to teach in a traditional classroom environment.
At Waldkinder, we do have classroom time. The treasures found on our adventures inspire art. We read and write, we sing and dance, we dress up and pretend. We collect wonderful scents in our magical jars so we can remember and describe the day’s favorite smells to each other when we are back in school. We collect birdcalls, the sound of rustling autumn leaves and the way the snow crunches as we walk and draw pictures of those sounds. We make up dances and songs imitating the flowing water, the falling leaves and the deep, soft snow.
Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge. The combination of both is powerful force. Waldkinder Preschool aims to build strong pathways to each.