Have you ever wondered what it would be like to send your child into the forest for a playgroup or kindergarten? Are you interested in the benefits nature will have on your child?
A couple of years ago, I conducted an interview with Iris Spahr, founder of the Muttenz forest playgroup (waldspielgruppe). Here, Iris discusses in the detail the benefits the natural world has on children. Oh, and both of our children went through/are going through her program and love(d) every minute of it. I am a HUGE proponent of outdoor education and have seen first hand the health, physical, educational and emotional benefits that nature has on children!
- Are you the original founder or one of the original founders of the Forest Playgroup in Muttenz?
Yes, I founded the program in 2004.
2. What made you want to start such a group?
As a child, I played a lot in the nearby woods. I have fond memories of that time. I could live out my creativity and felt a challenge to achieve something outside the home. I learned to climb and balance. I passed on this treasure to my own children and accompanied them to the woods to play in and with nature.
In the Kindergarten Council, we discussed starting a forest class in Muttenz. That’s when I got a new boost to start this playgroup outdoors rather than inside.
- How long has the playgroup been in existence?
- What are the educational benefits children receive from a forest playgroup?
In nature, children learn with all their senses (smell, feeling, hearing, touch, etc.) We guide them with themes throughout the year (all the seasons). They learn how to balance, climb, jump, listen to stories, sing, eat and play together. Children also learn how local animals live or behave and they get to know some of the trees; all according to their age.
- What is the structure of each playgroup?
In our structure rituals and repetition are very important. That gives the children confidence (they know what is coming) and time to be creative in their free play time.
We start with singing & playing a game together, such as hide and seek. Then we walk to the place where we picnic together, have some time for free creativity, and we integrate the theme according to the season. Then there is free play, cooking together (fire and lunch in one group) story and songs. We end by walking back and saying farewell.
- How old do children have to be to participate? How many children participate per playgroup?
- If parents want their children to participate in forest playgroup, how do they go about registering and how far in advance should they register?
Parents can contact any of the playgroups by phone or mail. The school year starts in August and ends at the end of June. Registration begins in November/December until March, or up to August if there is space available. If there is a vacancy, children can participate during the year. Although, children feel more part of the group when they join all together at the beginning.
If you are interested in reading deeper into the benefits nature has on children, one of the most influential pieces of literature I have read on the topic comes from Richard Louv in his book, Last Child in the Woods.