Mud – Check
Education – Check
Dirt – Check
Exploration – Check
Social Skills – Check
Friends – Check
Great Teachers – Check
Fun in Nature – Check
What can I say; forest playgroup (what an awesome idea) seems to have it all. While I can appreciate a traditional classroom, when the opportunity arose for our son to spend two mornings a week last year, frolicking in the woods, I was sold. I am a firm believer that fresh air and nature are essential to good health – both mentally and physically and after reading Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv the book only confirmed my desire to have our children in nature as much as possible. On page 86 of his book the following is stated and gives me great comfort in our decision to send our then four –year- old into the woods each week, “Natural settings are essential for healthy child development because they stimulate all the senses and integrate informal play with formal learning.”
Another aspect of education that is important to understand, according to Howard Gardner founder of Multiple Intelligences, is that each individual has certain areas in which they excel. Or simply put, we are all smart or intelligent in our own way. Of his multiple intelligences (linguistic intelligence, logical –mathematical intelligence, spatial intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, musical intelligence, interpersonal intelligence and intrapersonal intelligence), natural intelligence or nature smart was recently added to the list. A benefit of allowing children to play and explore freely in nature might just tap into an innate gift they possess.
Certainly forest playgroup may not be for everyone. It is sometimes cold, wet, and always dirty, but I believe the benefits certainly outweigh the occasional inclimate weather. We have noticed a dramatic difference in our son’s behavior in nature. He seems to be curious about his surroundings, always tinkering and picking up materials (some of which we do wish he would leave in their rightful place), he is able to hike with us now as opposed to being carried, and once he is in nature, he seems to feel at ease in his surroundings.
Of course there are times when he would prefer that we accompany him for the duration of the playgroup, but every time I pick him up from school he is filthy dirty (in my mind that is an indication of a successful morning) and always smiling. He is usually carrying a stick, rock or some other treasure he has uncovered in the woods and anxious to tell me all about his day. Once he is home from forest playgroup, we usually do a tick inspection, jump into the bath, eat a big snack and relax during the afternoon. And another benefit of being immersed in nature for several hours is that our son sleeps extremely well on the nights of forest playgroup!
I believe our son is too young at this point to value the skills he is learning in forest playgroup, but I certainly hope that his love of nature and deep respect for our world is somehow harvested in those woods. To me, this is one gift that is essential to give our children and that is the love of the great outdoors.
In closing, I will leave readers with this thought obtained once again from Last Child In the Woods. “The great worth of outdoor education programs is their focus on the elements that have always united humankind: driving rain, hard wind, warm sun, forests deep and dark – and the awe and amazement that our Earth inspires, especially during our formative years.” Page 22.
Forest playgroup in my mind, is an invaluable educational tool for children. Switzerland is an incredible place to raise a family and by creating opportunities for children to explore the natural world through play, is one more reason we are grateful to call this country “home.”