Imagine a world in which you were encouraged to head into the forest and play all day, everyday. You eat fresh fruit for snack, tromp around on hundreds of acres of wilderness land with your buddies, search out flora and fauna, and then take a nap. A backpacker’s bliss, right?
Prepare to get jealous: To the join this club, you can’t be older than 6.
Waldorf School kindergarten programs and a few others like it around the country have abandoned indoor classrooms and replaced them with forest kindergarten programs. The children attending these programs spend at least 3-and-a-half hours outdoors everyday, regardless of rain, snow, or shine.
In one Waldorf forest kindergarten program near Saratoga Springs, NY, kids from ages 3-6 romp around the Hemlock Trail’s 325 acres of parkland. They look for worms, build forts, engage in nature-inspired imaginary play, and get ample amounts of exercise.
The idea behind the Waldorf School’s program and others similar is to reconnect children to nature, which has been a growing theme in our nation’s schools since the release of Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods. Louv’s book focuses on the growing disconnect between children and the outdoor world, which he contends has led to many childhood ailments, including obesity, ADD, and the onset of juvenile diabetes. According to Louv, these myriad illnesses come from this disconnect—something he calls “nature deficit disorder.” The cure (which backpackers have been privy to for years) is simply more time under the big sky.
While some (most) of us probably can't afford the $7,000 Waldorf forest kindergarten tuition for our kids (or ourselves...), there are a lot of ways that we can help our kids and others connect with the great outdoors. For some suggestions, check out these our own kid-centric articles: