“Nature’s Classroom” – Forest kindergartens in the Tennessee valley
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“Nature’s Classroom” – Forest kindergartens in the Tennessee valley

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by EPB fiber optics and UNUM. I like to go in the forest and see plants
a lot. You can smell them by just doing this. Smell! Being outside with no walls around you, just
that open sky, that freedom, I think is what children need. There’s something about that openness that
opens them up. As a classroom teacher I instinctively knew
the best way for children to learn with was to take them out of the classroom. I think a lot of parents in particular these
days are concerned about risk- being outside, and so one of the foundational principles
of outdoor education and forest kindergarten is that that is an important part of development
that children learn how to deal with the risks that are inherent in an outdoor setting. I like to consider Wauhatchie School kind
of the mother ship. You know it kind of started here, we were
the first forest kindergarten in the state of Tennessee and so my goal has always been
to make this a model. Teacher: We still need another rock over here The idea of outdoor education of course is
immersion in nature, so children come here for a full immersion experience that means
they stay outside whatever the weather. Teacher: What instrument is this? Just about any subject can be taught in an
outdoor setting. The history of outdoor education is really
quite ancient. In more modern times you see it probably emerging
around the turn of the 20th century and particularly in Europe, northern Europe number of countries
Scandinavia Denmark; you have the use of forest education in Germany, even the term kindergarten
is a German term and it means child’s garden. My biggest concern right now is the disconnect
between nature and human beings that disconnect is bad for us in every way physically mentally
spiritually and so I think this movement to getting children back into nature has a lot
to do with the concern of being disconnected from it. What do you see in the trees? I see more trees The fear is that these kids
are going to be behind academically. People think well anybody you just go outside
and play in the park so how is this educational how is this beneficial? But when you start looking at the research
and saying oh these kids actually do better academically. This is our favorite soup. We’re making it out of our favorite recipe. In math reading and language
arts in all of the hard skills we want them to gain at those foundational levels, they’re
always better. Forest kindergarten runs the whole gamut of
structured teaching to allowing the children to direct the teaching. The European philosophy is the teacher is
the facilitator. The teacher is not there to give information
to the children, to direct their learning the teachers there to stand back allow the
children to explore discover on their own and direct their own learning. The teacher is there to support that and then
of course they can give information as it’s necessary and to me it’s probably the most
powerful way for children to learn because it’s their discovery and they’re excited about
it and they’re interested in it. I experienced firsthand the benefit for children
with for instance ADHD in being in an outdoor setting when I was a teacher the child that
had struggled with staying on task in the classroom and following directions when he
was outside when they were outside it was for some reason they were able to focus they
were excited they were following directions. Our parents tell us that their children are
becoming they’re much more independent they can do things on their own. Socially they get along better together. It’s wonderful that we have a private school
here and parents can bring their children here but every child should have this experience
and to see it integrated into public school curriculum and all school curriculum; that
that was my long-term goal was to see it become a part of public education. About the time I started exploring the idea
of starting a forest kindergarten I was also working at Gilbert elementary as the consultant
for outdoor education and Matt Harris at Gilbert and I started talking about forest kindergarten
and he was also excited about the concept. It can be done in a regular public school;
it just takes a little bit of creativity and a little bit of freedom. We’d kind of developed an outdoor Ed program
so we knew that we had the space. We started off with grade-level research projects
and each one of those projects had some aspect to get the kids outside. He’s going to try the orange! He tried the orange! From there we kind of progressed to trying
to get every kid to spend an hour a day outside. We try to do a lot of the outdoor education
concepts that have been around for a long time but we try to be really connected to
the standards and make sure that we’re being efficient in covering the material that we
need to. Forest kindergarten- they spend half their
day every day outside, rain or shine. Curriculum wise, year one was a learning process. We tried to go exactly by the book and the
book was written for public schools. We have two hours a day usually after lunch;
some days we spend all day out and the morning is more instructional time where I’m actually
leading and teaching Talk about what animals need, and you just did! but the two hours after lunch is child directed play, child directed
exploration. When’s the snail gonna come out of its shell? Now spread the butter! At the end of our adventure session they come
to the pine forest and they sit at their own tree and they have their own journals and
pencils and that’s the time we have them to write down their discoveries of the day. You know year one that was a concern of mine
are they going to be close to grade level or are they going to be able to transition
into a normal class with their peers and they came out slightly ahead of their peers. I don’t know that I can attribute that to
forest kindergarten because we don’t have the long-term data yet but I can’t say that
they were not behind. I want us to kind of be something that can
be replicated. I want to see Gilbert kind of be a tool used
to spread it to other schools so whether it’s our county or Chattanooga or Hamilton County. There’s just so much research and documentation
showing that it’s effective and showing that it’s the right thing to do. It’s been the most exciting thing for me is
to see it actually happening here in Chattanooga, to see the interest in public schools now. Chattanooga is a place where people come because
they love the outdoors. This is where people can see it working. I would love to see at all levels starting
with education of teachers and moving right on through to administrators of schools and
administrators in County offices and on through to principals- understanding enough so that
instead seeing this as something fringe or weird that it’s seen as something that is
very foundational to the well-balanced development of any student at any level. To me probably the joy of learning and the
excitement about learning is what sparks lifelong learning. So when children are excited about learning
when they’re really young they can carry that excitement through school. What I’ve noticed is some of the teachers
who’ve been through our program who are utilizing this method, first of all notice how much
more they enjoy teaching and they also are finding that their kids enjoy school more;
so there is just a level of loving to learn that has come along with this. If you’re a fan of Greater Chattanooga,
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About James Carlton

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21 thoughts on ““Nature’s Classroom” – Forest kindergartens in the Tennessee valley

  1. Good. The only way of 'producing' a confident independent adult is to trust a child to climb a tree and use a knife.

  2. They shouldn't be allowed to call this a kindergarten because it's not. Edit- I'm using the current, correct definition of kindergarten- NOT the literal breakdown of the german words it came from (children garden). DUH.

  3. A long time ago, a woman named Ellen White wrote about this kind of education in the book entitled 'Education'. She stated that while reading and writing and math are to be taught, the children are not only to be outside in nature at least 2-4 hours everyday, but their early years, they are to learn basic living skills that we use in our everyday lives. For the older children, neatness, order, cleanliness and basic chores are to be an important part of their development. It's a shame that we have teens today who cannot cook a meal, cannot sew on a button, have no idea how to wash their clothes, swing a hammer, keep a room clean, dust or fold a pair of pants.

  4. I LOVE THIS SO MUCH! Denmark does this and I think it’s so great for the children. Children aren’t dumb so let them climb, jump smash, run, splash, and explore!!

  5. Watch this short documentary about forest kindergardens in Denmark. Then ask yourself why comments have been disabled on the video.


    Possibly it's because, as the teacher says in this video, forest kindergardens help kids become curious, independent, self-reliant, social and strong – all qualities that scare 'our leaders' to death.

    They also look happy and healthy, shocker.

  6. Children go to school 180 days out of a year, so there is 185 other days when PARENTS (or other relatives or friends) can take kids out to the woods or where ever so it doesn't mean that kids here can't learn this.

  7. What a wonderful premises to learnings & developements…
    my greatest concern is the fact that only the teachers appear to be wearing safety glasses!
    LMAO all 4 cheeks. 21318

  8. Brilliant!! I knew we have what it takes to progressively embrace new ideas in Tennessee!! This a great way for kids to learn…we need this used throughout the system.

  9. I did it when I am little Girls. I was very happy and feeling amazing in my life…
    Everything has change after I am become adult..

  10. Reading some of the dumb comments here I wonder how we survived the '70s and '80s.
    We always played outside unsupervised. We had swiss pocket knives and didn't hurt ourselves or murdered others.
    Climbing trees was a natural given.And of course our parents did not drive us to school, as first graders we just walked.

  11. This is so very beneficial. I'd like to see this progress to even the older grades. Teaching life basics like farming. Basic human skills that the mass majority of us have never been taught

  12. its the best way for kids to learn responsibility , motoric skills and learn things in general.
    kids explore with all their senses and it makes a stronger imprint.
    same for adults.
    you can always read a million books but you only really learn it when you actually start doing it yourself and learning by trial and error.
    if you fall from a tree you wont climb that size branch next time 🙂
    only darkside from this is the parents need to keep the washer going more often.

  13. This was normal when I grew up. No special name for it or anything.
    I was almost never inside, climed the tallest of tree's.. Back then we didn't have any one watching us at all.
    Simply left the grounds and went into the forest, when it was time to eat, they hit a bell and we came running.
    In the forest we waged wars with sticks and cones, building shelters on ground and in tree's.
    In winter we'd build snow fortress's and throw snowballs from onto passbyers ..
    rarely hitting anyone due to throwing range wasn't too great when you're 5 years old 😛
    10 meters was probably considered long range at that age 😛

  14. I think nature inspires a love of discovery and learning. I am a lifelong lover of learning because my parents encouraged me to live this way.

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