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
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
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:
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.