• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Leaving your children in the woods – on purpose

The Local · 20 Jul 2009, 10:36

Published: 20 Jul 2009 10:36 GMT+02:00

Four-year-old Adrian Sager loves to drop leaves and watch them drift and perform summersaults as they softly sway to the ground. At the boy’s kindergarten, nestled on the edge of a deep forest, Adrian can spend hours on end with his favourite pastime.

Adrian is one of 21 children in the forest kindergarten in Kronberg, a village near Frankfurt. For these children, the classroom is equipped with a whole different set of teacher supplies and toys than a usual day-care centre.

Instead of artificially lit rooms full of plastic toys, miniature kitchens and indoor slides, the children have a choice of sticks, rocks, bugs, butterflies and mud for playthings. If a child wants to “cook” something, first he or she must design the kitchen with limbs and leaves and convince the others that it is indeed one. For sliding, children find muddy mounds and ease their way down.

These are just a few of the activities on offer for children in what Germans call a Waldkindergarten. The concept originated in Denmark and is based on the idea that the forest is the best possible classroom. Children spend many hours every day in the forest – rain or shine, cold or warm. The motto at a forest kindergartens is: “There’s no such thing as bad weather. There’s only the wrong clothing.”

Parents who send their children aged three to six to forest kindergartens often say they want their little ones to develop a relationship to nature at an early age and learn to use all of their senses. They see the quiet time in the forest as a special gift to children who will most likely spend their later working years sitting indoors in loud offices working at computers. Children are also forced to use their imagination instead of relying of plastic toys, and the fresh air and variable weather is thought to strengthen young immune systems.

Returning to the roots

In Germany, the idea of forest kindergartens has taken off since the 1990s, and now the country can boast several hundred such “institutions.” It even has forest kindergartens in major cities such as Berlin and Munich. The trend appears to be driven by an interest in the educational benefits of this type of care as well as a German love for the forest that has entranced Teutonic poets and artists for centuries. However, there’s also the practical advantage that no building construction is necessary in a country, where, by some estimates, only 10 percent of all children aged three can find available spots in kindergartens.

At a recent summer party at Kronberg’s forest kindergarten, children dressed up and performed a play for parents and visitors. Their stage was, of course, a small clearing in the forest. Nearby, children could play in a car that was constructed with logs. After the guests left, several older kids pitched tents for a group sleepover in the woods.

Kronberg’s forest kindergarten has been in operation for 10 years. The children have three teachers who work in a team. Barbara Kramer, one teacher, has been working at the kindergarten for seven years. Before taking the job, she hiked in the woods frequently and participated in conservation projects. But she wasn’t sure she could spend so much time in the outdoors every day due to her hay fever.

But since Kramer made the decision, she hasn’t looked back. “Here in the forest, children have to find their own toys. They have to be much more creative. They experience their fundamental senses as they learn the meaning of cold and warm and play with mud,” she said, adding, “The forest is a great place for children to catch up if they have sensory deficits.”

Each week, the kids in Kronberg spend one day in the group’s shelter, an old-fashioned train car, or inside a small cabin that was recently built for the kindergarten. They often work on arts and crafts with things they collected in their classroom, such as chestnuts and leaves.

Story continues below…

Waldkindergarten teachers aren’t necessarily trained in biology and ecology, but many bring impressive knowledge to the job anyway.

That, according to little Adrian’s mother Ute Sager, has helped her son develop a sophisticated vocabulary of forest-related terminology. She said when she says, “Look at the pretty butterfly,” Adrian replies: “What a nice silver-washed fritillary.”

Adrian and his family are moving away from Kronberg over the summer break, but Sager said her son already has a spot in another similar kindergarten in northern Germany near the border to Denmark. Near the village of Glücksburg, he will attend kindergarten near both the forest and the beach.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Ethiopia's Bekele nears record as wins Berlin marathon
Participants in the Berlin marathon take to the streets on Sunday. Photo:Paul Zinken/dpa

Kenenisa Bekele narrowly missed out on the world record on Sunday as the Ethiopian won the Berlin marathon ahead of former winner Wilson Kipsang.

Europe needs deals to send migrants home: Merkel
Angela Merkal poses with Bulgaria's Prime minister Boyko Borissov (L) and Austrian chancellor Christian Kern (R) in Vienna. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

Europe needs to secure more deals to send rejected migrants home, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told counterparts in Vienna.

Germany sees 'turning point' in birth rate decline
Children at a a kindergarten in Swabia. Photo: Nikolaus Lenau/Flickr

Is Germany's three-decade decline in birth rate now over?

Trump protesters rebuild and tear down 'Berlin Wall'
The 'Stop Trump' protest at the Brandenburg Gate. Photo: DPA.

US expats gathered at the Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate on Friday "rebuild" the Berlin Wall and protest US presidential candidate Donald Trump's own proposed wall-building.

Accusation of sexism within Merkel's party creates uproar
Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Chancellor Angela Merkel, two leading women in the CDU party. Photo: DPA.

A young politician from the ranks of Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has caused a storm by suggesting that the party is institutionally sexist.

EasyJet 'in talks to buy German airline' to duck Brexit
Photo: DPA

EasyJet is in talks to acquire TUIfly, a board member of the German carrier said Friday, as the British no-frills airline looks for ways to keep flying freely within the EU after Britain quits the bloc.

Symbols of migrant plight to go on show in Bonn museum
Photo: DPA

A people smugglers' car, a dinghy and a life jacket are among items related to Europe's migration crisis due to go on display at a German museum.

Brexit
Green party demand 'quick and easy' citizenship for Brits
Photo: DPA

The Green party has called for Brits living in Germany to be offered a painless path to obtaining dual citizenship as to "reassure them over the future".

Berlin the new London? 10m2 flat to rent for €750 a month
Photo: Immonet.de.

This shoebox apartment in the gentrified Bergmann-Kiez neighbourhood may be a sign that the tides are turning for Berlin’s comparatively cheap housing market.

Far-right AfD reach record high in national poll
AfD leader Frauke Petry. Photo: DPA.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) was backed by 16 percent of respondents in a new poll, which was a new high for the upstart populist party.

Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: the secret to dating in Berlin
Lifestyle
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
National
Seven great reasons to stay in Germany this September
National
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
National
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
National
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: the secret to dating in Berlin
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
Travel
Enter if you dare: Berlin's best abandoned haunts
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
5,753
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd