Waldkindergarten – Forest Kindergarten in Germany

9 February 2013 · 10 comments

in Early Years Outdoors, International, Nature Play & Learning

Whilst attending the 4th International Skogsmulle Symposium in Japan, several presentations were given. This is a guest post by Anita Egle, a Swede who resides in Germany and has run Skogsmulle sessions in Bavaria since 1989. It is a written summary and photos from her presentation about Forest Kindergartens in Germany. So in her words…

Many thanks Anita for the informative text, photos and good company in Japan!

Forest Kindergarten

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.

Concept

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.

I love this collection point for interesting natural objects.
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.

Organisation

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.

This was the shelter at the Waldkindergarten Anita visited.

Shelter

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.

The warm welcome of a wood burning stove inside the shelter!

Toilets

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.

Equipment

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.

All-in-all a very cosy place to be!

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.

Costs

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.

Love the way mittens are being warmed up!

Parents

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.

Impact

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

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Kierna C February 9, 2013 at 10:13

Thanks so much for this informative guest post, Anita & Juliet for giving me nother little glimpse into a different setting. This sounds very like the outdoor kindergarten I spent time in in Norway. I think the loveliest thing for me, is that the set-up of the day sounds very like how we spend our mornings in the forest on our outdoor days. Thanks for sharing Kierna

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Juliet Robertson February 9, 2013 at 10:43

Yes – this was my thoughts too. What we are seeing is commonalities rather than differences in approaches between different countries.

Whilst there is no formula or protocol for an outdoor nursery, there are clearly set ups which seem to be working nicely!

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Kim C February 9, 2013 at 12:42

Yes, thanks for sharing. Another inspiring insight and reassurance that many if us are thinking along the same lines! Lovely.

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Tom Bedard February 9, 2013 at 17:25

Forest kindergarten! Three- to four-hour walks in the woods a day. It might even be called immersion education. How fantastic! How in the world would they ever be able sit in a “regular” classroom?

Reply

Juliet Robertson February 9, 2013 at 17:35

Kim – you are welcome! I so agree about commonality of thought.

Tom – my only response is to suggest that the next step is a programme based upon what you offer!

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Hiroyuki Sugiyama April 4, 2015 at 22:38

I have visited Korean forest kindergartens before. One type is a forest class in general kindergarten. Children spend times in the forest every day. They are decided into the class with the same age, 3,4 or 5. National law was permitted just 4 years ago. Another is a forest group with 3-5 years in Seuol public park. In Japan we have no national law but in Tottori prefecture they started forestkindergarten’s with public financial aid this year.

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Juliet Robertson April 4, 2015 at 22:48

Dear Hiroyuki

Thanks for your comment – this is very interesting. I knew from the presence of South Korean leaders at the Skogmulle conference in Japan that there were things happening but it is great to have confirmation provided by yourself. I do know that Japan also has many trained Skogsmulle leaders and several nurseries integrate this approach into their curriculum.

What is evident is the rise of interest world-wide in getting children outside and establishing a connection with nature. I do not think this is a coincidence but a recognition of how rapidly the world is changing and what children need to have a solid foundation in the early years (and beyond)

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Shelly June 22, 2016 at 16:44

Hi. I’m wondering how I might get a job helping a forest kindergarten or doing something along those lines in Germany. I’m a writer wanting to explore the forests while also learning more forest schools.

Thanks!

Reply

Juliet Robertson June 24, 2016 at 22:05

Hello Shelly

Thanks for your query. I think the best option is to click on the link in this blog post and contact the Waldkindergarten organisation. However, there’s now many outdoor nurseries/nature kindergartens in the UK and this may be a more viable alternative if you are UK based.

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