Splashing in puddles. Making mudpies. Climbing trees. These are the ways children naturally explore and learn about their world. Yet, in an era of online learning and academic pressures being put onto younger and younger learners, fewer children are being allowed the opportunity for a more gentle entry into education.
This explains the popularity of the Waldorf School of Baltimore’s Forest Kindergarten. While still a relatively new concept in the United States, forest kindergarten has been popular in Scandinavian countries since the 1950s. The most striking difference between forest kindergarten and traditional kindergarten is that most, if not all, of the school day is spent outside regardless of the weather. The Waldorf School of Baltimore has long had a successful preschool and Kindergarten program; and last year, as the school celebrated its 50th birthday, they had the opportunity to realize a long held dream: to open a second Kindergarten “classroom in the woods;” Baltimore City’s first Forest Kindergarten.
“The trend in mainstream education is to have kindergarten look more like an elementary grade with direct academic instruction and lots of desk time. We are giving children the gift of one more year to learn through self-initiated play, movement, and ample time in nature,” says Forest K lead teacher Lida Lawrence.
The Forest K classroom is located in a beautiful urban woodland on The Waldorf School’s campus, found along the northernmost edge of Baltimore City on a hill adjacent to Cylburn Arboretum. Simply follow the stone steps down from the main campus, which is itself a certified wildlife habitat and Maryland Green School. Take the trails naturally terraced with boulders and logs and planted with wildflowers until you spot the sandboxes, sinks, swings, and natural wooden play-structures marking this classroom with no walls.
Children engage their sense of wonder, their powers of imagination, their motor and social skills, by climbing, jumping, hiking, creating art at handcrafted tables, pumping water from a cistern, and resting in hammocks rain, snow, sleet or shine. The time-tested Waldorf Kindergarten curriculum of movement-rich circles and stories, painting and craft work, practical skills and social exploration, all play out in complete immersion in nature. Dressed in rainboots and jackets when necessary, children experience the changing seasons. Weather, in all its forms, is seen as a teachable moment. (A classroom on the main campus can be used for exceptionally inclement weather).
For more than a century, Waldorf education has maintained a strong focus on immersing children in the outdoors to promote a love of nature. Fostering a love for all living things, by intertwining educational experiences with the land around us, is central to the Waldorf approach. Waldorf Education is the fastest-growing educational philosophy worldwide, with more than 1,000 Waldorf schools in 64 countries around the world.
Do you or someone you know have a kindergartener who is ready to become not just a young learner but also a forest explorer? For information on admissions and visiting The Waldorf School of Baltimore, see their website.