The Danish take on preschool education – spending time outside nearly all day every day in the forest and other environments – has been hands down the best part of our time here in Denmark. But time in the forest isn’t just for forest schools. Here in Denmark, they believe pretty strongly that all kids belong outside. Even in your regular preschools, you’ll see that kids are out and about.
Just the other day, a friend who has her son in a regular Danish preschool sent around a note about his “troll hiking experience”, where they were taking the preschool classes out for an outdoor adventure every day this week. After a quick run through google translate, here’s a little synopsis of what they did (and also, how great is that name??):
“10 small happy and expectant troll children went into the woods with backpacks on.
First they had to go to the bus. It was not there … so all looked for the yellow bus. There it comes, said one of the children. YAY! shouted the trolls and went into the yellow bus with the high step.
The bus drove to the train station with the many stairs. Down on the platform, waited troll kids for the forest train. They should not wait long … The train came and they ran out to the forest.
In the forest we got a sip of water and then we go down to the bonfire. We hung orange ropes in the trees as nursery trolls could find us.
There were many lovely puddles at the bonfire so while some studied snails, insects and worms … there were others who took a fresh mud bath.
We were lucky, kindergarten trolls found us and so we ate our food packages and had a good time with our guests.
Tired and a little wet but happy, we came back to the nursery. We are already looking forward to tomorrow.”
And this was all on just one day; there will be four others this week just like it. I wanted to share this because I realize that what we have in the forest school here is a rare opportunity – I’m aware and I appreciate it tremendously. I know for most, completely changing over to a school system like this isn’t realistic or available, at least not yet. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t lessons from forest schools that could be applied more broadly.
Just the other day I read, via Tiny Trees, that preschool kids in Seattle were only offered the opportunity to move around 48 minutes out of their school day. 48 minutes. For toddlers! I mean, those guys are like perpetual motion machines – no wonder they’re bouncing off the walls. At the same time, I recognize it’s not easy to take a big groups of kids outside. I sometimes take one toddler and am exhausted for the day, so I can’t imagine what it must be like for the teachers, and the article points out as much. But you know what’s sadder than the 48 minute statistic? This line:
“…some parents object when kids go outside in bad weather, or when they come home dirty, Puffert added. “Teachers don’t want parents to be upset with them,” she said.”
Being a teacher must be crazy hard – but it must be even crazy harder when you feel like you don’t have the parents support behind you. Remember the social contract I mentioned that’s a little different here in Denmark? That’s why this stuff works here. It’s okay for kids to get a little wet. It’s okay here for kids to get a little uncomfortable. And it is most certainly is okay here when kids get dirty (“fresh mud bath” anyone?). All of these things are okay if they’re for the right reasons. And not only are they okay, but research is showing more and more that all of these things lead to better educational, social and physical benefits further on down the road.
We seem to have lost our way a bit on what’s needed and what’s healthy for small children. We owe kids a lot more than 48 minutes, and that doesn’t require a full forest school system or anything really all that complicated. If regular schools can fit this into their schedules here in Denmark, it seems to me that regular schools elsewhere could to, even just a little bit. As parents, we should ask for it and expect it, but we should also remember to enjoy it and support those that make it possible. Shouldn’t everybody get to be a little troll for at least a little bit?