When I reflect on my preschool and kindergarten days, nature and exploration don’t come to mind. In fact, the mental image provoked is quite the opposite. Most of my formative days were spent inside a small classroom, only venturing outside for recess during the times of the year when the weather permitted such adventures. Even then, we could only enjoy the outdoor expanses for about thirty minutes or so. The opportunity to indulge in any innate fascination with the natural world was scarce, to say the least.

Many preschools and kindergartens conform to my own experiences. However, this soon may no longer be the norm. Waldkindergartens, translated as “forest nurseries,” have been popular in Europe for many years, and are beginning to gain traction in the United States as well. They offer an alternative to the traditional learning setup that many preschoolers and kindergarteners experience.

Waldkindergartens got their start in nineteenth-century Germany. After being founded, their prevalence lagged for many decades due to the introduction of other, more widely accepted learning models. Now, however, they are gaining momentum in Germany and beyond. In Waldkindergartens, children are granted time to immerse themselves wherever unstructured nature play may lead them. In modern Waldkindergartens, students benefit from a typically low teacher-to-student ratio. Many meet outside year-round regardless of rain or snow, making for a truly immersive experience.

These preschools and kindergartens have become popular in Germany, in part due to their state system of education. As early as the age of 10, a combination of exam results and school performance designates students to either a basic Hauptschule or a Gymnasium to complete their education. Many parents believe that the Waldkindergarten method of learning provides an alternative to an education system that decides a child’s future at such a young age.

Sound like something you might want for your children? Waldkindergartens are becoming increasingly present in the United States, so it may be possible for your child to attend one. Those who are familiar with this system claim that it is an opportunity for children to grow as self-confident and independent individuals. In addition to emotional strength, children also learn about the natural world in a truly experiential context at a very early age—some say positioning them for future success.

Implementing Waldkindergartens in the United States would take some getting used to. Despite its unfamiliarity, it seems promising as an additional education method. The next time you ask a child what he or she is learning in school, perhaps you won’t be caught off guard by an animated reply about time in the forest!

Did You Know?

Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel was a German educator who believed play was both constructive and crucial to a child’s development. He coined the term kindergarten, which literally means “children’s garden.”

Image credit: Erlingerl1