Kenny will open outdoor preschool

Spending the entire school day outdoors sounds like a foreign concept, and in a way it is. Although there are more than 700 forest kindergartens — waldkindergartens — in Germany, in which children spend their entire class time outdoors year-round, the concept is still novel here in the United States.

Most educational models seem to assume that a valid education can only take place within the four walls of a classroom, yet the idea of an indoor classroom is a relatively new phenomenon. Historically, the majority of childhood education took place outdoors, and many educators around the world still believe it is more appropriate for children up to the age of 7 to spend most of their time learning outdoors through direct experience with the natural world rather than confined to a desk indoors.

The kindergarten we know today in public schools is a far cry from the original idea of the man who coined the word “kindergarten,” literally children’s gardens. Friedrich Fröbel, a German educator, opened the world’s first outdoor kindergarten more than 150 years ago with the belief that young children should play in nature, away from an emphasis on too many numbers and letters.

According to a National Wildlife Federation study, children who regularly spend time outside have lower stress levels and more active imaginations, develop stronger immune systems, become fitter and leaner, experience fewer symptoms of attention deficit hyperactive disorder and have greater respect for themselves, for others and for the environment.

Cedarsong Nature School, a nonprofit school on Vashon Island, is beginning a forest kindergarten for children ages 3 to 6 years old this September. True to the German model, Cedarsong’s Forest Kindergarten is an entirely outdoor education program designed to integrate children with nature and engage them in quality outdoor activities that stimulate their innate curiosity about the natural world. In cases of extreme weather, there is a cozy shelter; however, Cedarsong Nature School embraces the motto that there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing choices.

For more information about Cedarsong Nature School and its forest kindergarten, see the Web site at Scholarships are available for families in need.

— Erin Kenny is a naturalist, one of the co-founders of Cedarsong Nature School and head of Camp Terra, a longtime, all-outdoor summer camp on Vashon.

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