• 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
This Week in History
75 years since one of Holocaust's worst massacres
Photo: DPA

On Thursday, German president Joachim Gauck spoke in Kiev 75 years after the Nazis slaughtered 33,771 Jews during one of the worst single massacres of the Holocaust.

Six things you need to know about troubled Deutsche Bank

Shares in Deutsche bank plunged on Friday morning, dragging down other European banks and markets worldwide. Here are six things to know about Germany's biggest lender.

Deutsche Bahn jacks up prices for first time in 3 years
Photo: DPA

Germany's main rail provider, the state-owned Deutsche Bahn (DB), announced on Friday that it will raise prices on long-distance train travel.

Baby found alive in suitcase with skeleton in Hanover
File photo: DPA.

A baby has been found alive, along with the skeleton of another infant inside of a suitcase in Hanover, police reported on Friday.

Morocco to speed up repatriation of illegal migrants
Photo: DPA

Morocco has agreed to streamline the procedures for the repatriation of citizens living illegally in Germany, the royal court said late on Thursday.

890,000 refugees arrived in Germany last year - not 1.1m
Photo: DPA

Previous reports had suggested that around 1.1 million people entered Germany to seek asylum last year. But now the German government has confirmed the number was actually lower.

Racist attacks cast cloud over Dresden Unity Day planning
A police vehicle in Dresden. Photo: DPA.

As Dresden prepares to host Germany’s national Unity Day celebrations on Monday, the capital of the eastern state of Saxony is upping security after a mosque was targeted by a homemade bomb.

Sinking Deutsche Bank stock sends shock across Europe
Photo: DPA

Shares in Germany's biggest lender Deutsche Bank plummeted on the Frankfurt stock market on Friday, dragging other European banks and global markets down with it, after reports some customers were pulling money out.

The Local List
10 things you never knew about German reunification
Reunification celebrations in Hanover in 2014. Photo: DPA

With German Unity Day (October 3rd) happening on Monday, Germans are looking forward to a three-day weekend. But did you know these facts about reunification and German Unity Day?

Munich pharmacy’s nighttime porno show draws crowd
Photo: DPA

When a police patrol in Munich's Sendlinger Tor area noticed a crowd gathered outside a pharmacy window they went to investigate. But the onlookers weren't interested in a new line of flu medicine.

Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: the secret to dating in Berlin
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
Lifestyle
10 German films you have to watch before you die
Lifestyle
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
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
National
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
National
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: the secret to dating in Berlin
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
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
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
6,718
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd