Many thanks Anita for the informative text, photos and good company in Japan!"History
Today there are more than 1000 Forest Kindergartens in Germany. They enjoy great popularity and their waiting lists are long. The first official Forest Kindergarten in Germany was founded in 1993 in Flensburg which is in the north of the country, on the border with Denmark. And it was from there and Scandinavia that this outdoor pedagogy was imported on parents' initiative.
German Forest Kindergartens build more-or-less on the concept of the first official one in Flensburg and differ from the Danish Skovboernehaver only in that they have a shelter for a base. Otherwise they have no roof and walls, since they are outdoors, located in a forest. They run daily, five days a week, through all the seasons and in all kinds of weather. The children are brought by their parents to the entrance of the forest in the morning and are picked up at the same place at noon. Some FKs offer longer opening hours.
During this time, there are free play, games, actions and a project, in which children will play with natural materials, climb, balance, jump, explore, measure, count and compare, discuss and learn, each at his or her own pace, whilst accompanied by their teachers who will not disturb and interrupt, other than to encourage and give comfort.
To give you an example, a typical organisation may have between 15 and 20 children, aged 3-6yrs supported by 2 nursery school teachers trained in outdoor pedagogy and 1 trainee. Children will arrive between 8.30 and 9.00am. The core time lasts 3.5 hours until 12.30 where parents have until 1pm to pick up their child. Some FK's will have prolonged opening until around 2.30-3.30pm.
A wooden hut mounted on wheels is the most common type of shelter used. It is often towed into a place or clearing not too far from the entrance to the forest (the meeting point). It must be large enough to house the whole group in extreme weather and must have heating where the opening hours are prolonged. Stored in here are tools and materials like knives, saws, ropes, extra clothing, books, paint, brushes, pens, scissors and paper, etc. Some FK's also use a teepee for retreat in the warmer seasons.
FK's which have prolonged opening hours must have a transportable toilet set up nearby. Otherwise the forest will have to do... and a trowel is carried for this precise purpose.
Teachers carry, in a handcart, a container with fresh drinking water which must be replenished daily. The water will be used mainly for cleaning hands before eating breakfast (a safety precaution against fox worms) and after toilet visits. Other items include a wind-and-rain shield, extra clothing, first aid kit, a mobile phone with list of telephone numbers of the parents and emergency contact numbers, tools, a cloth to put samples on, illustrated books on flora and fauna. There may also be warm tea in a thermos, cups and of course toilet paper and the toilet trowel.
The children wear the right clothes for the weather to keep comfortable, warm and dry, a rucksack with a little mat to sit on and a healthy breakfast from home, something to drink, their own little towel (which must be replaced twice a week), extra socks. No toys from home or sweets are brought along.
A Day in a Forest Kindergarten
Children and teachers meet at the entrance of the forest, after which they walk to their base in the forest. Here, they will sit down, or stand, in a circle for a welcome ceremony, sing a song and discuss where to go and what to do. Often the children will want to return to the place where they were the day before, to continue with what they did then.
When they have arrived at their chosen site, which can take up to half an hour as the children detect and wonder at new natural occurrences, the children sit down on their mats and have breakfast together. The teachers may put up the wind-and-rain shelter on the site, if desired. Some children will spend more time eating while others will start playing. Free play, games, actions and a project will follow. In the end, they return to the base, get together an discuss how the day has been. After which they say good bye to each other and walk back to the meeting point to be picked up. Children who stay over noon will be served a warm meal provided by outside caterers.
In principle the fee for a child in a Forest Kindergarten is the same as in a regular kindergarten. In reality, however, it tends to be slightly more. For example it may cost 150 Euros per month for a half day and 50 Euros per month in addition for the prolonged stay including the warm meal. Whereas a regular kindergarten may cost between 100-150 Euros depending on the region.
The cost to run a Forest Kindergarten is much less, of course, than a regular kindergarten since it doesn't require a building, furniture, washrooms, toys and so on. It has no electricity and water bills to pay. The approximate cost is 90 000 Euros per annum, including salaries.
Parents form an important part of the Forest Kindergarten and parent-teacher meetings are held on a regular basis. Should a teacher be absent then a parent will stand in.
Studies (in German) show that Forest Kindergarten children come well-prepared for school and that they are often ahead of their school mates physically, mentally and in their social behaviour.
Looking into the Future
The outdoor pedagogy is spreading more and more into regular kindergartens in Germany. There are currently 500 integrated Forest Groups today. Also a growing number of regular kindergartens offer forest project weeks (in good weather). Nevertheless this does not cover the demand. The potential remains considerable since almost every existing kindergarten has the possibility to go out into nature and into a forest. After all, one third of Germany is covered by forests."
Many thanks, again, Anita, for sharing this detailed information. The nationwide forum for Nature and Forest Kindergartens in Germany (BvNM) has a lot of detail on its website. Well worth a look - but it is in German.
Some useful articles about Forest Kindergartens in Germany (can you tell me if you know of others?):
All Outdoors, All the Time
Leaving your Children in the Woods - On Purpose
Early Childhood Education Takes to the Outdoors
Waldkindergarten: the forest nurseries where children learn in Nature's classroom
German Tots Learn to Answer the Call of Nature
10 Great Things about a Waldkindergarten