Written by Nora Happy MEd Edited by Jess Labbe BS, ECEd
“No Bad Clothes, Only Bad Weather” Scandinavian approach to outdoor schooling
Nora spent the better part of three years in Bergen, Norway studying how a variety of outdoor based preschools spend their days emerged in nature and entirely outside. She left Norway in 2013 with a Masters in the Philosophy of Education after writing her thesis “A Breath of Fresh Air A Qualitative Study on Outdoor Play and Learning in Norwegian Barnehage”1. (link in sources) Early on in her studies she heard the phrase “there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing” on repeat from many Norwegian preschool teachers and pedagogy professors at NLA University College. What she started to discover was that both teachers and preschoolers dressed the way we as New England kids learned to dress for ski season. They layered their clothing appropriately, dressed based on what the weather of the day said, and spent money on clothes that would last for years that were made from wool, goretex, and breathable materials.
The Way Life Should Be! Here at the Village Nest Cooperative, we have thorough gear recommendation lists for all four seasons we experience here in Eliot, Maine. When a family enrolls in our forest school, we send them a gear list and help them navigate between what they already have and what they will need for the year. Jess and Nora have a combined three decades of outdoor based schooling under our belts, so we like to remind families that no gear question is ever too silly.
Finding the right gear that fits your child can be more complicated than one might first imagine. For instance, we recommend to our families that they buy two rainsuits per year, one to fit snugger for spring/fall, and another that will fit over all of their winter gear, the same could be applied for boots (a set for winter that could fit two pairs of socks and a smaller set for summer.)
Dressing for Success Remember when you were a kid and your mom/dad/grandparents stuffed you into snow gear and you felt like Ralphie’s little brother from “A Christmas Story?” Well, we have ALL been there! At the Village Nest we aim to have our students able to dress themselves and regulate their own temperature. While it takes time and practice with our mentors to help students as young as two and a half learn to dress themselves with our approach, we work towards it starting in the fall and have success every year!
Part of our techniques include a detailed list of how to dress for the seasons and what brands we recommend. While we won’t give away all of our secrets in this post, we do have two places we like to send our families. If you are local to us in Maine, we love Kit Supply in Kittery, Maine—they specialize in “thoughtful goods for outdoor kids” we also work with Outdoor School Shop, an online store that helps dress kids for forest schools and provides great insight on why we wear what we do!
Socks REALLY matter? We believe in investing in good quality sustainably made gear for both our students and teacher that helps them to thrive in the outdoor environment. Gear that fits them well and does not constrict their movement and ideally can grow with them (at least for a couple of years and/or last as a hand-me-down for your next child/neighbor/family friend.)
With that said, believe it or not, if there is ONE thing we recommend your family investing in it’s good quality merino wool socks and base layers. We love Darn Tough and Smartwool and kids tend to prefer merino to full wool because of the itch factor.
Unlike with rain gear, base layers should fit tight to the skin like undergarments. As Outdoor School Shop so eloquently puts in their layering guide, “don't worry if you are mixing wool and fleece or high-tech poly – they are all recommended and can all be worn together and accomplish the goal of keeping your child warm!”-2 The only absolute NO is cotton because it its hydrophilic nature causes it to dry very slowly and absorbs moisture like a greedy sponge-3
Friluftsliv, the fresh air approach! In an era of children (and adults) who are glued to their devices it’s no wonder the naturalist movement, forest bathing, and “friluftsliv” have become more and more popular both in the United States and around the globe. The pandemic has shown us both the importance of a strong early childhood foundation rooted in play--4 as well as how important our job as forest educators is—teaching teach the next generation of American students how to dress for all New England weather, care for mother earth, and be a humane part of an ever-shifting global society.
Training the next generation of outdoor kids is our passion. We at the Village Nest believe that children can and should be outside as much as possible. The 1000 Hours Outside movement helped shed light on that and how to do so in the US—5 in fun and creative ways. Our mentors are trained to use the forest and our outdoor classroom to aid in our emergent play-based curriculum that engages children ages 2 1/2 – 8 years old throughout the school year and up to 10 in our summer camp.
Curious about learning more about the Village Nest Cooperative and all we have to offer? head to our Facebook and Instagram accounts @VillageNestCoop or explore our website for our offerings!
Happny, N. (2013, September 15). “A Breath of Fresh Air A Qualitative Study on Outdoor Play and Learning in Norwegian Barnehage” Retrieved February 15, 2022, from NLA Høgskolen https://nla.brage.unit.no/nlaxmlui/bitstream/handle/11250/172055/Nora%20Happny%20aug.%2013.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
Human, D. (2016, Nov 1). “Why Cotton Can Kill You on a Hiking Trip”)
Introduction Many people wonder what defines a “forest school” and how outdoor schooling differs from indoor schooling.
We at the Village Nest Cooperative offer part and full-time preschool for ages 2.5-5 years old and a Microschool program for Kindergarten through Second grade.
How does the Village Nest define forest schooling? Why do we choose to use the forest for education? How do we utilize the forest to aid our curriculum? What are the benefits of forest schooling? How do we cultivate young naturalists?
We’re dropping some big knowledge for you here in our first Blog post!
Where did Forest schools originate?
The first forest school was created by Ella Flatau in Denmark in the early 1950s. Soon after forest schools started popping up all over Sweden and Germany. Wakelin McNeel and H.L. Russell introduced the first American Forest school concept in 1927 in Laona, Wisconsin, inspired by an outdoor tree-planting project Russell observed in Australia.
Today there are an estimated 240 nature-based preschools in the United States. Nature-based education can be found around the world and can take many other forms, such as summer camps, scouting, Outward Bound programs, wilderness therapy. and under the broad term of "outdoor experiential education". There are many overlaps with the modern concepts of slow parenting.
What Makes a Forest School Different? Here at the Village Nest Cooperative, we define our forest school by spending the majority of our time outside (typically 6-8 hours a day) in our outdoor classroom in Eliot, ME or 22 acres of preserved wildlife where we use nature as our primary place of play. We also emphasize play with objects found in nature rather than commercial toys.
We even nap outside in Wise Owl hammocks wrapped with Nemo Equipment sleeping bags in the winter. We believe that outdoor schooling provides dynamic and varied learning conditions to challenge and empower students to discover in deeper and more holistic views than a traditional classroom environment.
We see this evidence every day with how resilient and confident our students become throughout their time with us. What is the biggest difference? There are no walls in our outdoor classroom. Erin Kenney (Founder of Cedar Song Nature School in Washington State) used to say, “Children cannot bounce off the walls if we remove the walls!” The freedom that forest school gives children speaks for itself.
Why We Educate Outside There are so many reasons why we chose the outdoors as our classroom. We allow children to climb trees and big rocks, walk on slippery logs, snowshoe in the winter, thereby using nature as a tool to develop their life skills, mobility and muscle memory and balance. We’ve found that nature allows for more big noisy moments or quiet listening to our surroundings like birds and wind.
Children are allowed to explore more freely and learn boundaries while in the outdoor environment. They take risks which leads to greater independence and self-sufficiency. Overall, we find that children educated in nature are healthier and more independent. Their ability and encouragement to try new things inspires confidence and resiliency.
How We Utilize the Forest to Aid or Curriculum At the Village Nest we believe that anything taught inside can be done outside with a little creativity. At the preschool level we use sticks to draw letters, natural found objects to teach counting, and let children lead play to enhance play-based learning.
We practice play-based emergent curriculum where teachers watch and listen to what children are interested in then shape their future lessons around those curiosities. Our Microschool teachers follow the Oak Meadow Curriculum and Maine Learning Standards, and both programs can be tweaked to fit easily into an outdoor model.
Four Benefits of Outdoor Schooling We believe that forest schools are suitable and adaptable for ALL learners and when done well can have tremendous benefits. For now, we will highlight four main benefits described so eloquently by the Forest School Foundation:
PHYSICAL: Improved physical stamina, fine and gross motor skills, Balance and agility, safe risk-taking, sensory exploration, spatial awareness, motor development, increased strength, stamina and balance, manual dexterity, footwork coordination, tactile sensitivity, depth perception, fewer accidents, and injuries.
SOCIAL: Improved communication and social skills, Positive identity formation for individuals, families and communities, environmentally sustainable behaviors, greater enthusiasm for teamwork, increased independence, empathy, and altruism.
EMOTIONAL: Secure attachment and self-identification, Improved confidence and self-esteem, Increased motivation, Reduced stress and increased patience, self-discipline and regulation, resilience., self-awareness and character development.
MENTAL: Ecological literacy, improved academic achievement, improved higher level cognitive skills, Increased attention span, Improved concentration, Improved creativity and use of imagination, problem solving, Increased curiosity, memory recall and pattern recognition, risk assessment.
How We Aim to Cultivate Young Naturalists Part of our bigger picture of educating children outside is for them to develop a relationship with nature. We teach our students about preserving nature, admiring plants, caring for animals and how mother nature holds such power.
Our wish is to create students who feel comfortable in the woods, taking risks, and understanding the importance our forest play in the grand scheme of their lives.
While we hope preschool age learner's will benefit from creative, sensory, spatial, and motor development; older children of primary school age will strengthen foundation’s for continued personal, social, and educational development we also aim to leave them with a desire to preserve our forest lands.
Keep Kids Outside! In closing we hope this gave you a better idea of why at the Village Nest Cooperative we have chosen a forest school model. We think the risks of being in nature are outweighed by the benefits indubitably. Mother nature provides endless opportunities for our children to use trees, rocks, and land as playscape. As we know PLAY IS A CHILD’S LEARNING! Our students benefit physically, socially, emotionally, and mentally in the outdoor setting. The outside provides for ALL types of learners and learning styles with a backdrop that leads to developing nature lovers who will preserve this land for years to come.