One local school is offering a unique alternative to traditional preschool programs.
The Forest Kindergarten Movement began in the 1950s in Scandinavia and didn’t reach the U.S. until 2007.
As reported in the Athens Banner-Herald, Athens Forest Kindergarten, a preschool program for children ages 3-6, is the only program of its kind in the area.
A forest kindergarten builds on the students’ curiosity instead of standards of traditional schools, and takes place outdoors, weather permitting. The teachers observe students while they play and if the teachers notice that the children are interested in bugs, they may bring a book about bugs to share with the children.
“Research has shown that even having a view from your window of a tree increases children’s ability to focus and be calm and self-regulate,” said Amy Zvornar, the curriculum consultant for Athens Forest Kindergarten. “So, in Forest Kindergarten, they’re getting all of this time immersed in nature and opportunities to focus on a project for an extended period of time, when we do our emergent curriculum.”
For parents who worry about risks that their children will face outside, including the weather, animals or poison ivy, Zvornar and founder Sarah Whitaker say that the staff is highly trained to deal with those situations. Parent volunteers also need to participate in a volunteer training session.
One of the major skills the children learn from the program is risk-assessment. For instance, if a child wants to climb a tree, instead of telling them to be careful, the teacher will show them how to test each branch to see if it will hold them.
“There is research that shows that when children are given access to moderate risk as young children, they’re able to make better decisions in their adolescence and young adulthood.” said Whitaker, who has a doctorate in educational psychology.
Families can enroll their children for Tuesdays and Thursdays or once a week. Parents are also required to volunteer outside of class time for at least one hour per month, depending on their tuition plan. The more hours a parent volunteers, the less tuition they will have to pay.
Volunteering is a way for parents to get involved in the program. Admission is on a rolling basis and will close when the class is full.
The Forest Kindergarten has spring and fall semesters, so children who turn 3 after the fall semester starts are still be eligible for the spring semester.
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