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Teaching kids HOW to problem solve, not WHAT the answers are!

The Playgarden, a Jacksonville Beach pre-school and kindergarten, has a Forest Kindergarten program. All of our teachers attended Forest teacher training at Cedar Song Nature School, located on Vashon Island, Washington. Cedar song Nature School’s Forest Kindergarten has received national and international attention for its unique early childhood education model and has been featured in such diverse media as Sierra Club Magazine, People Magazine, ABC News Nightline, the Associated Press and England’s UK Daybreak.

The following Q and A’s are from Erin Kelly, founder of Cedar Song Nature School and Cedar Song Forest Kindergarten Teacher Training.

Q: Which skills do children learn outdoors that they cannot learn inside in a classroom?

A: Forest ecosystems, biology, botany, ethnobotany, etymology, ornithology, zoology, math, physics, engineering, marine biology, oceanography, beach and dune ecosystem. Additionally, life skills gained in the Forest Kindergarten include social development, conflict resolution, instilled kindness, compassion, empathy, emotional balance, risk assessment, increased upper and lower body strength, including hand strength, better balancing and flexibility.

Q: What’s the main difference between forest kindergarten kids and regular kindergarten kids?

A: It has been shown that Forest Kindergarten kids play more cooperatively and exhibit more teamwork. Also, they have increased problem-solving ability and higher critical thinking. In addition, the kids tend to have a higher empathy and compassion extending to all living beings.

Q: What are the benefits?

A: Physical, Emotional and Mental benefits:

  • Physical - healthy bodies, stronger immune systems, among others.

  • Emotional - better emotional resilience and management of emotional states, among others

  • Mental - improved cognitive functioning, more relaxed/less stress, among others

Q: Why are the skills learned at Forest Kindergartens so important for a child’s future?

A: Forest Kindergartens teach kids HOW to problem solve not WHAT the answers are! The Forest Kindergarten model, through its interest-led programming, inquiry-based teaching style and emphasis on social and emotional development teaches lifelong skills and prepares for kindergarten readiness in the following ways: it leads to better problem solving; higher critical thinking; encourages excitement about learning and retains the desire to learn; it teaches kids HOW to problem solve not WHAT the answers are; it expands creativity; it promotes a willingness to take risks; and it results in children who have better peer communication, emotional resilience, lower frustration levels, higher perseverance, and who work more cooperatively with their class mates.

Q: What do kids do all day?

A: Whatever they want! It is child-driven interest-led flow learning. They run, climb, dig, carry sticks, throw things, play in the mud puddle, create imaginative play, make music, dance, yell, and more. All of the “normal” activities you would find kids doing when they are engaged in authentic outdoor play. Additionally, the kids swim, kayak, boogie board, build forts, hike, build camp fires, make fishing poles and fish, make dams in the creeks and tide pools,

Q: Don’t they get bored without all the toys?

A: NEVER. They find “toys” everywhere because their imaginations are left intact. A stick can be a horse, a broom, a drill, or a woodpecker, or any number of other things. Drift wood becomes a pirate ship, a fern forest becomes a fairy village, a toppled over tree becomes a hide-out, a fort, a restaurant, a mountain, a house , ANYthing they can imagine!

With Joy, Miss Lynn

Research and Sources: "Children's later school success appears to be enhanced by more active, child-initiated learning experiences. Their long-term progress may be slowed by overly academic preschool experiences that introduce formalized learning experiences too early for most children's developmental status. Pushing children too soon may actually backfire when children move into the later elementary school grades and are required to think more independently and take on greater responsibility for their own learning process."

“Research indicates student achievement levels rise in core academic areas, including reading, math, and science, when learning takes place in more natural settings,” says Robyn Bjornsson of the Children & Nature Network, a nonprofit that is leading a movement to reconnect children with nature.

“A growing body of scientific evidence identifies strong correlations between experience in the natural world and children’s ability to learn, along with their physical and emotional health. Stress levels, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, cognitive functioning—and more—are positively affected by time spent in nature.” Richard Louv; Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network.

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