‘Forest kindergarten’ gets kids outside and into nature

The new trend is growing in popularity across the country—but what is it?

'Forest kindergartens' are gaining in popularity across the U.S.
Imgorthand/Getty Images

If your young learner is struggling with remote learning, you might want to try a new trend in education: forest kindergarten.

The outdoor-only schools are growing in popularity across the country, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They go by many names, including forest kindergarten, nature school, forest school and outdoor school. The concept is simple: students receive a nature-based education while outdoors. Even in inclement weather, kids learn while playing outside.

Forest kindergartens have been around for decades. They began in Denmark in the 1950s and are still popular across European countries.

Nature preschools are undergoing a surge in popularity in the United States right now—and it started before COVID-19 swept through the country.

According to a report from the Natural Start Alliance, forest kindergartens have more than doubled since 2017, growing to 585 schools in 2020.

While today's families may be interested in outdoor schools as a way to limit exposure to COVID-19, many parents say the benefits go beyond the pandemic. Forest schools are designed to give children room to explore nature and their own physical limits, to encourage and enhance communication skills, and to help children build emotional resilience. There is evidence that forest kindergartens boost brain development and academic performance, as well as reduce symptoms of ADHD, according to the Natural Start Alliance.

Not every family has access to forest kindergartens. First, they're simply not as common as traditional pre-K or kindergarten programs, so you might not have one within driving distance of your family.

They're also usually privately run and require tuition. For families who rely on state-subsidized childcare or free kindergarten programs, they might be out of the question.

FEATURED VIDEO

According to the Natural Start Alliance's 2017 survey of 121 nature-based schools, just 3% of students are Black or African-American and only 7% are Hispanic or Latinx. Students are overwhelmingly white (83%).

The majority of schools reported serving less than 5% of students who are dual language learners or who receive special education services. Across the country, almost a fifth of all American children live in a household where English is not the first language. In traditional school settings, 13% of American students receive special education services, too.

Will forest kindergarten replace traditional kindergarten as we know it? Of course not, especially when you factor in the limitations the schools have regarding special education and language services, as well as high costs and limited availabilities.

Still, they're growing in popularity for a reason.

More parents than ever are enrolling their children in forest kindergartens. It's all about getting kids active, involved with nature, and encouraging curiosity and physical play.

Who doesn't want that for their littlest learners?

Jamie Orsini is an Emmy Award-winning journalist, military spouse, and a mom to two busy toddlers. In her spare time, Jamie volunteers with the Solar System Ambassador program with NASA/JPL and reads anything she can get her hands on. She’s currently working on her first novel.

In This Article