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, http://on.wsj.com/v6VI8y
2. Sarah Amandolare, ‘US Schools Realizing Benefits of Forest Kindergartens’ http://bit.ly/u9fOPs