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Forest kindergarten (wikipedia.org)
114 points by EL_Loco 17 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 44 comments

There's one near where I used to live in Chicago. They use a local Forest preserve. Strangely there is a contigent of neighbors who continually try to get the whole thing shutdown because they don't think young kids should be outside like that all the time. They try to complain and say they leave garbage or are noisy or other invented complaints. From what I understand, what they're really upset about is that they can't let their dogs run around off the leash with little kids around all the time.

Those small groups with a bit of power like NIMBY activists are the worst. You see it on Facebook groups for buildings too, they range from over-protective types who are scared of the city/outside to fully invented hypothetical problems any time something is "different" happens.

I've always wondered what these people get out of it.

A neighborhood I lived in had a virulent social media & flyers campaign against a planned "24/7 commercial facility" (the ads never said what it was) that would cause gridlock, lower property prices and generally bring on the Apocalypse.

Turns out said facility was a small privately run aged-care home (the horror!), and the campaign was largely bankrolled by some local developers who would much have preferred to turn the waterfront lot in question into condos.

In their own narrative, of course, they're just good people trying to protect children/live their live in peace/etc.

Yeah but freedom is about tolerating what you don't like because it's none of your concern. I don't understand how the "land of the free" could favour a small group so much. It's unthinkable in my post-socialist country.

Sharlin 16 days ago [flagged]

"Land of the free" is propaganda, plain and simple.

Maybe so, but please don't post unsubstantive comments to HN.

If you're talking about the one at the North Park Village Nature Center, it looks like they were already shut down. :( https://blockclubchicago.org/2019/06/20/preschool-program-ki...

The complaint is seriously that there is “unstructured play” happening? Heaven forefend!

That is the one and it makes me very sad, I hadn't realized they'd been shutdown.

A lot of these NIMBY campaigns are a veneer for plain old corruption. Don't want your competition getting into your territory? Use a home owner association or a city council seat that you or a friend are a part of to obstruct them. That small business is owned by someone outside your church? Well they aren't getting a liquor license for their convenience store.

Often there is some underlying motive coming from bigotry or greed. However there is always the person with too much time on their hands who gets a kick out of having power over others.

We've got our daughter in a similar preschool. She spends 2-3 hours during school days outside in a semi-structured environment. (Ie, there are adults and rules, but the kids are free to negotiate their own games, social interactions, and play.)

It's been astounding how well balanced and social all the kids are from that school. I supposed it's anecdata (I only know ~10-15 kids), but there's a lot more awareness and empathy than I've seen from other kids in the 3-5 year old range. Observationally, there is a little less skills development in reading/coloring within the lines.

As a parent, it feels impossible to know the right thing to do for your kids. You have to emphasize something in their education, at the expense of something else. Choosing a school that values the outdoors, empathy, and social development as the basis for teaching seems to complement our tech savvy home life. I hope it works out.

> As a parent, it feels impossible to know the right thing to do for your kids.

Being adequate is enough. Chose something that doesn't seem clearly harmful, pay attention for signs of harm, pay attention for signs that it's a bad fit and make a change if it is. Really all you need from preschool is socialization, and some exposure to germ warfare.

What I hoped for my child to get was familiarity and positive associations with the school concept. In my mind, it's more helpful if young people enjoy school and feel it is a place where they can do things well than if they have a lot more academic skills early and have developed a dislike of school.

> What I hoped for my child to get was familiarity and positive associations with the school concept.

Why? Any Prussian model school will inure them to ranking, tedium, busywork, being ranked and doing things that seem pointless because an authority figure said to as well as another, whether they begin education in a child centred school or not. It’s not like most metro areas even have a child centred school, whether Sudbury, Montessori, Waldorf or other. They’ll learn what school is actually like on exposure to it and develop associations with it based on that whether they went to a child centred school for a brief period or not. The long run effects of beginning schooling in a humane system will fade and the only long run effects will be a few better years in childhood.

I suppose that’s enough justification by itself.

Why do you call them Prussian? It's Austro-Hungarian (Maria Theresia) invention. Prussian schools were straight up military.

I often wonder if there's simply a bias that of course these kids will do well, they come from families where their parents can and will enroll them into special programs.

I'm beginning to be faced with these kinds of decisions with my oldest.

Both my kids went through a version of this system in Copenhagen.

2 weeks in the forest (by bus each day) then 2 weeks in the kindergarten. This meant the kindergarten building could support double its capacity as only half the kids were there at one time.

Main takeaway for me was how resilient they became to cold, playing, eating and resting outdoors all day during winter, with far more ailments acquired during the indoor fortnights than those spent outdoors.

There are several preschools like this in the Bay Area. My son has been going to one for three years in the Presidio. They show up rain or shine (but seek shelter in high wind or forest fire smoke).

It’s been an absolutely wonderful experience.

Both of my kids have attended Waldkindergarten as a standard cultural action here in Austria, and it has been extremely successful in their case - motivating them each to be engaged in nature in their environment, wherever we go. I quite often will find either one of them in our own garden, poking at something interesting, whittling a new stick, caring for a creature they found somewhere. Whereas their peers who did not attend seem, these days, to only have attention for their mobile phones.

I strongly encourage every parent in the Western world to get your kids engaged in the natural environment, whatever it takes. City-dwellers seriously need contact with nature, especially kids.

I truly believe a kind of highly damaging neurosis occurs when people don't hug trees.

This is very common in Sweden. Weather isn’t an issue even in winter. Even in ”normal” kindergarten, my kids took their afternoon naps outside in -10C.

I wonder if this would also result in fewer children being nearsighted?


It is an interesting concept to have these borderless, less limited kindergartens. Another example is a Tokyo kindergarten which was architected to provide more freedom to children, and let them play and experiment as they wish[1]

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5jwEyDaR-0

Waldkindergarten was great for my boy. My younger girl isn't quite old enough for it yet where we live, but I am sure it will be good for her as well.

My boy was outside, no matter the weather, every school day for about 3 hours, and then inside for about 45 minutes.

Large motor skill and plenty of loose- or un-structured play with many other kids seems to be a really great way for young humans to develop. They went on hikes, exploring everywhere, looking for scat, and all kinds of activities during their outside time every day.

If you have the opportunity to let your kid do this or something like it, then I highly recommend it.

As a parent of three 3 and under, and interested in this, can you share some of the practicals?

-what if it’s cold (40f) and rainy? Do they still go out? What do you dress your kid in?

-what about fights with sticks?

-what about all the stuff in the woods that may or may not be edible (eg mushrooms)?

Just interested as these are some of the “how would that part work?” That come to mind for me.

The kids go out even when it's 0°F and snowy. There were a couple of days at below -10°F when they did not go out, and a few days when they only stayed out for maybe an hour instead of 3.5 hr. In the winter, they wear snow pants, heavy jackets, gloves, hats, face mask/scarf. In the rain they wear rain jackets, rain pants, and rain boots. They do just fine. The teacher for my kid's class warns ahead of time if they expect different gear to be needed than normal for the season.

My son's class of 14 this past year had a teacher, a naturalist, and two aides. This is a public school system. I do not know if private classes would have more or fewer adults.

So, fights with sticks could happen, but they don't seem to any more than any kind of fight in an ordinary classroom might, and the teacher/aids deal with them the same way they would with classroom fights.

When the kids are out in the woods and not in the outdoor play areas, they are more closely supervised. They don't have free roam of the entire forest. Hiking and adventuring is led by the naturalist and assisted by the teacher and aides. They are taught about things like "don't eat the mushrooms" and such. Still, things happen. My kid loved to jump into water, and he always got his shoes/boots/etc wet, even when it was cold. One time he broke through the ice at the very edge of the lake (deep enough to get into his boot). The adults and kids deal with it, just like we had to in scouting when I was a kid. The main difference is that when I was a kid, I only got to do it about once per month on a weekend, whereas my kid could do it all day every (school) day. How awesome is that?

When I was 14 or 15, I slept in a tent in the deep woods in -20°F overnight. It was really no big deal. My kid at 5 is already at least as good of a naturalist as I was at that age. :)

> what about fights with sticks?

As an anecdote, I went to a school with a decided lack of sticks. Fights were had by throwing building blocks instead. Kids will do stupid things, and sticks aren't inherently more dangerous than building blocks.

Right but in a classroom the teacher intervenes. In a “free play” outdoors how are the rules defined and enforced?

outdoors the kids are still supervised and the teachers can intervene if necessary

Yes, exactly. My son's outdoor classroom (as the free play area is called) still has a boundary and adult supervision. Sometimes the teacher or naturalist is leading some activity, and sometime they give the kids something new to investigate and then get out of the way. But they can always intervene, if needed. It's really not often needed.

In San Diego, there is a camp called Outpost Summer Camp that is exactly this.

This has also made me post-Montessori. I’ve left the faith, but we’ve found the forest.

can you elaborate on post-montessori please? how does that look like to you?

I loved the idea of Montessori, and it’s an issue I raised in open discussion at one of the school’s group chats.

Basically, in principle it’s great. Children drive themselves and follow what they’re passionate about (with a teacher’s encouragement). If they’ve got a tendency for math, for example, the teacher helps them develop their own intuitions and keeps those pathways open for them.

In practice, my son believed there was a limit on his abilities to develop because children under 4 years and zero days weren’t allowed to begin learning numbers (or those stations weren’t available to him). You see, it’s still cohort based learning, where cohort is based on age not ability.

So he knew numbers from home, but believed at school he was incapable. It was a strange sort of cognitive dissonance where he could only “count to twenty” as reinforced by his classmates, because he wasn’t old enough to do the number station. And yet, he didn’t realize that meant he wasn’t able to say the numbers greater than 20 - but often times he’d go from 1-200, etc.

Math wasn’t the only topic where this happened unfortunately.

This was at one of the few fully certified Montessori programs in San Diego.

I believe that it was a better program than a median program, but I’m not sure if it’s because his peers came from families who could afford to spend time with their children, or if the program itself was better than median.

However, it’s a different model that definitely did not address my root concern - assisting a child to advance at their own pace (faster or slower). Which just means that my expectations were mismanaged.

Overall, I think the forest kindergarten concept is more rewarding for my kid, and he’s at least happy going to and coming home from school. That’s an oft overlooked part of schooling: ensuring your child isn’t miserable - and there’s quite a bit of misery at Montessori, due to the focus on quiet, individual work.

children under 4 years and zero days weren’t allowed to begin learning numbers

ouch. someone hasn't been paying attention in their training.

there is no hard date to introduce any activity. if children are interested in an activity, they are introduced to it. or to a simpler one that leads up to it. applying a hard date shows lack of understanding of the different speed of childrens development.

if it's not to late i'd read up a bit on the montessori method and confront the teachers about it. they are clearly doing it wrong. i'd also check who certified that school, or where the teachers were trained.

unfortunately, the montessori name is not protected, and anyone school can claim to be montessori, even if they are not.

I do research in Montessori and other developmental pedagogues, and what you described — restricting access to materials on the basis of age — is not a typical Montessori practice. Nor are “Stations”.

Children proceed through Montessori as they demonstrate mastery of developmental materials. The teacher should be closely following each child’s progress and will introduce a new material when they show readiness. Materials are kept organized by domain on accessible shelves but children would lay out a mat or find a table and bring materials there. In fact one thing the teacher is observing is their ability to independently select a material that is of interest, work with that material in a state of concentration, and replace the material where it came from when they are finished with the material. Goals are independence and autonomy in a community that supports respect for others. When it’s done well, it is really beautiful to see a community of little scientists at work.

If in your school progress was age-linked or materials were set up at stations, than whoever “certified” that school does not understand sone pretty basic and fundamental concepts of Montessori education. Or they have gone off the Montessori nap somehow.

Another basic tenant of Montessori is free access to the outdoors. And there is a lot of work about what the outdoor environment should offer in the way of exploration, gardening, etc.

Sorry you had the experience you had. When done well it is difficult to imagine a better way to do early childhood than Montessori. I wish I’d had it.

> I believe that it was a better program than a median program, but I’m not sure if it’s because his peers came from families who could afford to spend time with their children, or if the program itself was better than median.

Doesn’t matter which is true. Early educational interventions fade out universally and we have nothing that effects adult intelligence or conscientiousness which explain pretty much all variation in educational attainment, partly through their effect on SES.

> “Heckman curve” update: The data don’t seem to support the claim that human capital investments are most effective when targeted at younger ages.


> The Heckman Curve describes the rate of return to public investments in human capital for the disadvantaged as rapidly diminishing with age. Investments early in the life course are characterised as providing significantly higher rates of return compared to investments targeted at young people and adults. This paper uses the Washington State Institute for Public Policy dataset of program benefit cost ratios to assess if there is a Heckman Curve relationship between program rates of return and recipient age. The data does not support the claim that social policy programs targeted early in the life course have the largest returns, or that the benefits of adult programs are less than the cost of intervention.

The paper you're citing investigates the idea that "early childhood investments have significantly higher benefit cost ratios than those targeted at older age group", and it concludes that "there may in fact be no relationship between program cost effectiveness and the age of the recipient."

From this you seem to have drawn the surprising conclusion that there is no benefit to greater in investment in early childhood education, a conclusion which the paper you're citing specifically warns against:

> This finding does not imply that there should be less investment in early childhood programs. There are many early interventions that have large positive rates of return, and there are powerful equity reasons for investment in children.

> The data shows that prevention can be cost effective, but in addition, later treatment and amelioration using evidenced based programs can also succeed.

What do you mean by 'fade out universally'?

i think it means that the effects get lesser and lesser. that is, having a child go to an exceptional kindergarten may show the childs improvements in elementary school, but by the time they are in highschool that child is no different than a child that went to an average kindergarten.

i don't know if that is true.

i believe there are some things that really make a long term difference, however these things are more likely coming from the parents themselves and less from the schools they go to.

The montessory materials I read were not about following passion. It was rather that kids could choose order in which they did educational activities during dat - but in the end all the kids did the same ones. It is more about illusion of control and freedom within limited bounds.

it's the freedom to choose within the available options (that is the world as you know it). as kids get older the options expand, and hence learning to make those choices as opposed to taking what is fed to you is really the most important part.

dfee's son was denied that choice, and hence the effect that montessori is supposed to have may not take hold.

The kid was under 4. And montessory as original philosophy really was not about learning to make educational choices.

Montessory was designed for troubles boys originally. The effect it was supposed to have was that the kids that fail get some order and controll at the same time and build good working habits.

It worked for non troubled kids too and had good results, but it was not designed to push kids fast forward.

both my kid are in a public Montessori school, being a public school it's subject to the district and state requirements so it's not perfect. My kids like it but it's not the right fit for all kids. Some kids struggle in Montessori and absolutely thrive in a traditional setting. A family friend pulled their kids who just flat out hated every second of it and put them in a plain, standard issue, elementary school and they're loving it.

My point is there isn't one style that works for all kids so you need to try different things until you find what works best for your family.

Kingergartens or Kindergartens?

Typo fixed. Thanks.

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