Frequently Asked Questions about Forest School.
Are "Forest School", "Forest Preschool", "Forest Kindergarten" & "Waldkinder" all terms for the same thing?
More or less, yes, the terms are used somewhat interchangeably in the U.S. Technically, Waldkinder differentiates itself from Forest School & Forest Kindergarten because in a Waldkinder there usually is not any access to a building or facility of any kind. It is literally an outdoor preschool experience where children walk or hike into a natural, secluded setting in the forest, mountains, etc. (in fact, the word in German translates to "children of the forest"). Both Forest Schools & Forest Kindergartens, on the other hand, could be a component of another / larger program, even a Nature Preschool program (this is another term you may hear thrown around, but Nature Preschools do have a building & their curriculum is almost always focused on nature). Forest Schools & Forest Kindergartens typically serve children 2-8 years old, but in the United States the word "kindergarten" makes us think of 5 & 6 year olds, so this terminology can become particularly confusing. Sol thinks of itself as a "Waldkinder-style Forest School".
Will my Treeschooler really be outside in all weather?
YES! The Scandinavians have an age-old saying that we swear by at Sol that goes, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing". This cannot be any more true & we will really be depending on YOU to make sure your Treeschooler comes to Forest School properly dressed & ready to go! Since NM is typically sunny all year round & not terribly frigid, even in the coldest of months, the magic word when it comes to dressing your child is..... layers. Learn to dress your child in layers so that s/he can shed & add layers, as the temperatures of the day fluctuate (non-cotton clothing is always superior). Another essential item is a hat as it will provide shade, comfort & protection for most of the year when the sun is blazing, & (a winter hat) will keep the heat in during the winter months. Sturdy, close-toed shoes are another must. It is important to remember that the East mountains are typically 10+ degrees cooler than town, so you will need to adjust for that difference, too. You will get more information on how to properly dress your child during the registration intake process & you can also refer to the Sol Parent Handbook.
Will my Treeschooler get dirty?
YES! In fact, if they aren't dirty when you pick them up, they likely didn't play or explore. For this reason we recommend sending your Treeschoolers in clothes that can get dirty (or ripped, torn, scuffed &/or sticky with pine resin). We also recommend shopping Savers, Goodwill or Regear in Albuquerque for high quality used outdoor clothing (this is to save you from the despair of sending your Treeschooler in a brand new $100 North Face snow suit that gets torn from climbing trees). Some parents designate specific clothes for Forest School & this seems to work well (we don't care if they're in the same outfit week to week). We also recommend you make friends with duct tape as it can continue the life of clothing & gear, & noone cares what we all look like when we're laying down on the forest floor staring up at the amazing blue sky!
Will my Treeschooler engage in risky & challenging play?
YES! One of the many reasons modern parents are attracted to Forest School programming is because of the nostalgic images that come to mind of children climbing trees, skipping rocks, building forts, crossing creeks, & so on. These were everyday activities for generations of children across the world, but for a variety of reasons, including a shrinking "child habitat", children are no longer flexing their "risk muscles" & they are not better off for it. Instead, there has been a huge cultural shift in how we parent resulting in the "bubble-wrapping" of our kiddos to "protect them", but eventually they grow up & pass their driving test & at that point in time we take a deep breath, cross our fingers & hand them a cell phone & keys, hoping for the best! Forest School brings back good, old-fashioned, developmentally-appropriate risk & challenge that allows children to develop their Emotional Intelligence (emotional regulation, specifically). This in turn helps them to learn about risk & approach risk from a mindful place, while also learning about themselves. Developing Emotional Intelligence allows for a future of emotional stability & often, emotional satisfaction & joy. It is important for you as a parent to realize that while there are risks involved in Forest School, the benefits typically far outweigh the risks. This topic is discussed during our parent meetings & Sol strongly encourages you to do your own reading & research on the subject, beginning with esteemed Psychologist Peter Gray's article on risk taking in childhood that you can find at the bottom of the Forest School Principles page.
Will my Treeschooler use tools & enjoy campfires & other outdoorsy things?
YES! Learning eye-hand coordination, risk-taking & attention are a few of the benefits that come from learning how to use a tool, such as a hand-saw & perhaps even a whittling knife. Children are not introduced to "real" tools until they have demonstrated an ability to listen, sit still & pay attention, however; & tool use is likely the most "controlled & structured" part of the forest school curriculum. Children work one-on-one with an adult & everyone patiently waits their turn. Older children who have demonstrated competency might work in a group of 2-3, also with an adult.
Arriving at the point of being ready to wield a real tool takes several weeks & months. Children are first introduced to "tools" such as magnifying glasses, tweezers, rope, periscopes, compasses, etc. These things are introduced in a special way that separates them from toys & there is an expectation that the children use them carefully & return them to our tool box. Next, potato peelers might be introduced to carve sticks & twigs. Children are taught how they must sit, kneel or stand when using a tool. Slowly, over time, most children will demonstrate a readiness for the responsibility of operating a tool, but an adult is always at their side.
Some of our forest school sites (such as the site at Chamisoso Canyon) have a well-defined fire ring. In the colder months we may build a fire to boil water, keep warm & enjoy (if there are no current fire restrictions in place). Again, children are taught to understand the risk of fire & they must follow very specific rules teaching them how to behave around a fire (sitting, no running; no throwing things in the fire; staying a specific distance away from the fire, etc). It is highly unlikely that our 3-7 year olds will actually learn to build fires (that's best left up to the adults!) but they will certainly participate in collecting kindling & wood for the fire.
What is the ratio of Treeschoolers-to-adults at Sol Forest School?
Sol Forest School will not enroll any more than 14 students total, but class size between 8-10 children is more typical. Two teachers (Miss Sally & Miss Brie are our current Sol teachers) will work each session, plus one parent-teacher if we have 8 or more Treeschoolers attending. We may also have volunteers who work from time to time. This makes for a ratio of 4 children (or less!) to one adult, normally. Keeping our enrollment numbers low allows for increased site & child safety, while also allowing for plenty of adult-supported individual / group exploration & learning opportunities. All the adults that work or volunteer at Sol come with eclectic backgrounds, experience in working with / teaching young children, a deep passion for the natural world, & a prior background check.
Is reading, writing or math ever taught formally at Forest School?
No, the Forest School philosophy believes in using place, change-of-season & child interest as the primary "lessons" for young children & complex learning actually occurs when time & space allows for the observation of these three factors. In fact, research is now beginning to show that children who attend Forest School in their early years usually arrive to elementary school much better prepared to learn, & they often out perform their non-Forest School peers! Sally has had years of experience in the early childhood sector, however, so she is prepared to support your child in these areas if they are genuine areas of interest observed while outside in the Forest School classroom. Sally also believes in the power of children's literature as a teaching tool, as well as the power of exposing children to the alphabet / written word through their play (as long as it does not impede their play), so there will always be books & writing tools on hand. Since Sally has had years of special education experience, she may also be able to guide you if she feels that your child may be exhibiting some delays in their development that warrant attention.
Why doesn't Sol Forest School offer a class in town, or at the Bosque?
While the Bosque is beautiful, it is also highly-trafficked & finding a quiet spot can require a lengthy walk under the heat of an often unrelenting sun. There are also several child care programs in town that are already using the Bosque for their forest school days. The East Mountains are very nearby & they offer a change in scenery (as well as flora & fauna) & temperature that the children will really come to enjoy. We are lucky to have access to the mountains so close to our city, so why not take advantage of them...?!
How will my Treeschooler use the bathroom when at Forest School?
If we are going pee, we just find a spot outside of our Forest Classroom. An adult either comes with us, or if we are a bit older, they'll stand close by until we are done with our business. Going poo requires adult assistance & we will either dig a hole with a trowel as backpackers do (& bury it when we are done), turn over a large rock to poop in the hole left in its' place (& then return the rock) or use a portable "poop bucket" our teachers bring along.
I am interested in the Forest School approach, but even after reviewing this website I'm still not sure it's right for my child, or that I am comfortable sending them "to the forest" as a Treeschooler, yet. Can we attend a session before we decide?
Yes, we offer "try days" for a small fee & also can arrange visits to our program any time of the Sol school year.