I just returned from the International Early Childhood and Nature Education conference in the Netherlands and Germany and was able to observe many waldkindergartens (Forest Kindergartens) there. Four years ago I started a Forest Kindergarten here in the pacific northwest which has been wildly successful and enjoyed national attention. My question is this: Why are Forest Kindergartens in the U.S. stiil such a novelty while there are literally hundreds of them in a small country like Germany? What are the cultural differences that result in this discrepancy?
If you email me via my website then I'm happy to talk in more detail - or even have a Skype conference. Interestingly when I became an education consultant, the focus was all on the barriers to getting outside and health & safety matters. Over the past 5 years I've found this to be a negative approach which sends a hidden message that learning and playing outdoors is risky and requires a higher level of expertise.
Instead I focus very much on the skills educators do have and how these can be used advantageously outside with minor tweaks here and there. The safety issues we deal with as part of the ongoing course, e.g. when I take educators outside, I show them how I "train" a new class to gather round, define boundaries, procedures for staying safe, etc.
I also work from a sustainable rights-based approach (i.e. UN Convention on the Rights of a Child) as much as possible, with minimum resources and most stuff based on materials available. Where possible I choose to run split courses which involve practitioners coming back and sharing their outdoor work with the other course participants.
A lot of my approach is summarised in the recent publications here and here - I headed up the team that wrote these Government guidelines - in the chunky document at the back there's some of the simple training activities that can be done too. Hope this helps.
I thought you'd be interested in this great article on a Chevy Chase, MD, preschool where kids spend at least half of every day learning outside, in all seasons.
Love it. Getting my Green Team of kids outside this week. Very happy to see signs of spring.