Once we really got into the swing of things in our Danish forest school, there was part of me that started to worry that perhaps we might not ever make the switch back to normal school. I mean, fresh air every day? outside play every day? the opportunity to explore every day? The best friends of her life, every day? Our last months in Denmark I was dreading, for many reasons, when our last day of this freedom would come, worried that our daughter might react poorly to what might seem an abrupt clipping of her wings.
As usual, I shouldn’t have worried. Because as usual, the Danish system had more built in than I knew about at the beginning.
When students are in their last year of forest school, usually the year they turn 5 or 6, depending on their age and readiness, after the winter holidays, the school separates out those children into a skolegruppe, or, “school group”. Once a week those children get together as a cohort in those last months to start preparing for their transition into a more traditional schooling environment. Just as for us, forest school, as wonderful as it is, doesn’t go on forever for any of the children. There does come an end, which they work through and prepare for together.
During the skolegruppe, the children will break off and start to get exposure to letters and numbers, perhaps even doing a bit of writing and drawing. They talk about what the expectations of them will be, how much fun they will have and the adventures that await them in their new schools. In fact, the group goes on field trips to visit the three or four elementary schools were most of the kids will end up as students, so that their first exposure to it is with the friends they feel closest to, in the environment they know best. They talk about which students will go where, so already build a sense of having friends and continuing along the path together.
For our daughter, as we knew she wouldn’t be attending a Danish school because of our move, this was bittersweet. There was something comforting in knowing that everyone in her age group was going through a transition, but she was nervous that her path wouldn’t be like the others. In the spirit of skolegruppe, we found and shared a video of her elementary school here in DC, which she showed to the group and translated for the kids on a day dedicated to talking about the transitions that she would make. She told them all about the wonderful playground that she would have, and they cheered her on and supported her, students and teachers behind her all the way. Her first day here in DC, she walked in with such confidence as if they were all right behind her, cheering for her still, and it made all the difference in the world.