Adapting the European Forest Kindergarten Model to Urban Areas
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, College of Natural Resources
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Many urban children are disconnected from nature and their local environments. Nature deficit disorder is a well-known problem, as is the disappearance of free-range parenting. Today’s families do not send their children out to play or explore without adult supervision. This creates a monumental issue because for children, unstructured time outdoors can provide important opportunities to take risks, learn from mistakes, become confident and resilient, cooperate, problem solve, use imagination, be creative and learn self-sufficiency and independence. Plus, when children learn about and connect to their local natural world, they grow up more able to see the important relationship between humans and the environment, and the role we could have in protecting the environment. For an expanded discussion on the importance of connecting with nature, see Chapter 2. Forest kindergartens in Europe have been widely studied and proven to strongly support students’ academic, physical, social and emotional development. Plus, attending forest kindergarten helps develop a love for nature, which may lead to becoming a responsible citizen. Unfortunately, it is a struggle to get urban children outdoors, increase their comfort level in nature and teach them how to interact with and connect to their local natural environment. By design, forest kindergartens are inquiry-based, providing students with greater opportunity for child-led exploration and discoveries. Literature supports the idea that successful urban environmental education programs build upon prior experiences and are locally relevant. This is the foundation that leads students to feel capable of creating local change; so it is very important for young children to make this connection. However, urban students, in particular, face many challenges when connecting to nature. The introduction of forest kindergartens to urban areas will provide an opportunity for urban children and families to overcome these hurdles and view their local natural environments differently. Besides conducting a literature review for best practices for forest kindergartens and their adaptations to urban areas, several forest kindergarten practitioners will be interviewed to share their strategies for engaging and connecting urban students and their families to local natural areas via their urban forest kindergarten programs.