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Waldkindergarten

“The computer arrives early enough,” says Norbert Huppertz, explaining the rising interest in Waldkindergarten — forest kindergartens — in Germany, reports Mike Esterl in The Wall Street Journal (4/14/08). There are, in fact about 700 “forest kindergartens” in Germany — “a throwback to Friedrich Froebel, the German educator who opened the world’s first kindergarten, or ‘children’s garden’ more than 150 years ago.” His idea was that “young children should play in nature, cordoned off from too many numbers and letters.” And so, once again, children between the ages of three and six are spending “their days outdoors year- round.”

Margit Kluge, who has been leading a forest kindergarten in Idstein, Germany, says it’s great because kids create their own toys and it’s pretty safe, too. “It’s peaceful here, not like inside a room,” she says. Classes are held even when it’s cold and rainy (there’s a trailer for extreme conditions), and classroom furniture includes “a giant ‘sofa’ make of tree stumps and twigs … Despite dangers, from insects particularly, the children appear to get sick less often in these fresh-air settings … there haven’t been any bad accidents beyond the occasional scrapes and bruises,” although it’s sometimes necessary to rescue a child who has climbed a little to high up a tree.

However, according to some studies, these forest children are not well developed in their writing skills, and “less adept than other children at distinguishing colors, forms and sizes.” And one mom withdrew her child after he contracted “Lyme disease from ticks,” which “temporarily paralyzed half his face.” Others suggest that may an occasionally forest foray, like once a week is sufficient. The concept appears to be spreading to the United States, as well, with offerings such as the Mother Earth kindergarten in Portland, Oregon. But it is "struggling" in Japan, where Iwao Uehara has been "trying to set up a school," and Iwao believes it will continue to be a "tough sell" until some forest kids have attended "famous universities." ~ Tim Manners, editor