Nov 212011

Forest kindergartens

There is growing evidence about how access to green outdoor spaces helps to develop children’s cognitive ability, foster creative play and relieve symptoms of attention deficit disorder.

In Germany, there are 700 groups of children aged between 3 to 6 years old who spend their days in the woods singing songs, building fires and playing in the mud.  These are called ‘Forest Kindergartens’ or ‘Waldkindergärten’  in which children spend their days outdoors year-round. (1)

The number of German children attending forest kindergartens is increasing.  Local parent groups began setting up ‘forest kindergarten’ programs in the mid-1990s, following similar programs in Denmark and other countries.

In Australia, the Inspir=Ed Spirit of Childhood programs use the principles of connecting children with nature as an integral part of the play and learning environments. Many parents select Steiner Waldorf kindergartens which have natural settings in which the children can play and learn.

In the U.S. a private Waldorf School in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., opened a forest kindergarten requiring students to spend three hours outdoors each day. A teacher at the school observed the benefits of outdoor learning….”students’ improved motor skill development, they worked out their social issues in a better way and they had more imaginative play”. (2) Another U.S. program. The Mother Earth kindergarten, opened in Portland, Oregon last year to combat “early academic fatigue syndrome”.  Marsha Johnson who launched the kindergarten said “We have 5-year-olds who are tired of going to school.”  The children spend four hours a day at the privately run school playing in a state park forest.

Research reported in May 2008 showed that U.S. many children in day care programs were not playing outdoors.  Richard Louv, in ‘Last Child Left in the Woods’  reflects how children have been shepherded indoors at the expense of their wellbeing.

‘eco parenting – growing greener children’  is an excellent book that provides evidence based research on why going back to nature is good for children.

1. Mike Esterl, ‘German Tots Learn to Answer Call of Nature’  Wall Street Journal,

2. Sarah Amandolare, ‘US Schools Realizing Benefits of Forest Kindergartens’



Sep 062011


Delta Kay, Byron Bay Arakwal spokesperson, works as a Aboriginal Family Support Worker with the Bunjum Aboriginal Cooperative in Northern NSW, Australia. She describes the phenomenal change in the behaviour of children when all the plastics were removed from playgroup and replaced with natural wooden toys and other natural materials at the launch of the eco parenting book series in Byron Bay in August, 2011.

“We packed away all the plastic and brought out all the wood and everything changed. Their children’s behaviour changed and I watched how the parents changed. Parents couldn’t believe their children’s behaviour by putting plastic away.

In 2009 the Bunjum Aboriginal Cooperative, Ballina, Northern NSW, invited Jane Hanckel and the Inspir=Ed project to run a nine week parent education program along with a professional development program for Aboriginal health and early childhood professionals.  Following a makeover of the playgroup room which involved throwing out old toys and equipment, painting the playgroup room a soft calming light pink and packing away all the plastic the parents and children were welcomed by the quite calming environment.  Over the nine weeks parents and children learnt new parenting skills in a warm and supportive environment.  As Delta describes, the changes in the behaviour of the children and parents was extraordinary.  From running around and climbing the walls the children played happily and cooperatively with each other.  The children and parents learnt new songs and foods to eat creating a stronger sense of connection to each other and the community.

The work with Delta, Bunjum and other communities was one of the inspirations for Jane to write ‘eco parenting – growing greeener children’.  “I witnessed at Bunjum and other communities how by simply changing the environment by removing plastics and creating calm and nurturing spaces the relationship and behaviour of children and parents change.  In a world where children are increasingly being medicated for dysfunctional behaviour, it is so important to look at the environments along with diet and lifestyle, before resorting to medical intervention.”

Jane Hanckel and Thanh Cherry, international Steiner Waldorf early childhood educator, run training workshops for health and early childhood professionals.  Jane co-founded the Spirit of Childhood Foundation to run Inspir=Ed programs in communities across Australia.




Aug 122011

Natasha Hanckel-Spice, Ray Moynihan and Jane Hanckel at eco parenting book launch

The weather was warm and sunny on Saturday August 6th for the launch of the first two books in the eco parenting series at the Byron Bay Writers Festival.

Derek Spice the co-founder of Inspir=Ed and the Spirit of Childhood Foundation  gave a short introduction to the launch.

Delta Kay, an Arakwal spokesperson and one of the Aboriginal custodians of Byron Bay provided a welcome to country.

Delta Kay at the launch of the eco parenting book series

Delta is also an early childhood support worker.  Delta and I have worked together running the Inspir=Ed early childhood programs using the eco parenting principles at the Bunjum Aboriginal Cooperative in Ballina.  Delta spoke movingly about how the programs have helped parents gain new and valuable parenting skills and knowledge to support healthy outcomes for their children.

After the welcome to country MC Natasha Hanckel-Spice introduced Ray Moynihan who officially launched the books.

Ray is an inspiring award-winning journalist, author, documentary-maker, academic researcher and a journalist with Byron Bay’s local independent paper The Echo as well as a writer for the British Medical Journal, Radio New Zealand and other media around Australia.

Ray Moynihan launching the eco parenting series

Ray’s 2005 book Selling Sickness’has been translated into over a dozen languages. In late 2010 he released his fourth book, ‘Sex, Lies & Pharmaceuticals’ which further explores the very close links between pharmaceutical companies and some of the recent medical ‘breakthroughs’ that have been made.  Ray related how witnessing the diagnosis and prescibing of a child with borderline ADHD was one of the turning points in his career leading to his important work investigating the link between doctors and the pharmaceutical companies.

Next to join the conversation was Jo Immig.  Jo is an ecologist, freelance writer and researcher. She is also the Coordinator and spokesperson for the National Toxics Network in Australia, a community group fighting for pollution reduction and raising awareness about environmental health.

Jo Immig talks about children and the environment

Jo has authored three books including ‘Toxic Playgrounds’.   She has recently been campaigning for authorities to recognise the connection between the spraying of macadamia farms in the Lismore area with the rise in a birth defect among babies born in the Northern Rivers.  Jo provided extremely valuable input in the final stages of the ‘growing greener children’ book through her extensive experience in researching the links between the toxins in the environment and human health.

The panel discussion included how plastics have become so prevalent in childhood and the links to hormonal disruption, ADHD and other illnesses.  It was the opportunity to quote from the chapter on environmental triggers.  “American writer Norman Mailer called plastic ‘the excrement of the oil’. He warned about the cost of reliance on this cheap, ubiquitous material and the deadening of our senses. ‘Mailer also saw a link between violence and plastic. He argued that extreme actions were part of a search to discover the senses.’”

There were many questions from the audience which included a suggestion for one of the next books in the series – how to raise healthy young teengage girls in the midst of much peer and media pressure to use potentially toxic personal care products.