How to Start a Forest School 101

Wee Folk Forest Kindergarten Students Eat Snack Around the Campfire, Fall 2018

Wee Folk Forest Kindergarten Students Eat Snack Around the Campfire, Fall 2018

I should clarify a little bit…

This blog is intended to offer ideas and fuel to your burning desire to start your own forest kindergarten, forest school or nature preschool for children under age 7. I’m going to assume a few things for the purpose of brevity: You have an outdoor space that you would love to use for your forest kindergarten, whether this is a park, a forest, a beach, a field or a wild and overgrown backyard. This can be your “field trip site(s)”. If you want to legally have children dropped off for child care in your program (parents not attending with their child), you will need to be licensed for child care—and this is easy if your state has approved an Outdoor Preschool license type. It’s not so easy if your state doesn’t have such a license (or not yet). Getting a new license type for outdoor preschools can be a long and arduous process, and may end up taking your state longer than you would hope. We applaud those schools who are working through the state’s regulatory agencies to get new laws passed!

This blog won’t be about changing or developing new laws, since I’m going to walk you through the wild process I’m currently taking part in: Licensing a Forest Kindergarten When There is No Outdoor Preschool License Available. In my present reality, in order to have a licensed forest kindergarten I need two locations, at least:

1) The “forest” where the children go on “field trips” most days of the week. We currently utilize two properties as the “forest” for our Parent Child program, and both are privately owned.

2) The licensed facility where we comply with all the regulatory agencies. In our particular case, we have been offered a leasing opportunity at a property in unincorporated Boulder County, one a 1 acre parcel, with an existing 3 bedroom single family home. So this, as the plan goes, will be our licensed facility.

We have been informed by the CDHS, Colorado Dept of Human Services (more on this below), that if we have a licensed facility, we can go on as many field trips as we want. And so, a licensed facility we shall have.

Everyone’s process with licensing is different, for many reasons, but at the very least, because everyone’s state laws are different. State and local laws hold a lot of power over decision making when it comes to starting and running schools, let alone outdoor, forest schools which are still a bit avant garde in the US. Let’s talk about those laws for a minute.

Boulder County Land Use Special Use Review Application

Boulder County Land Use Special Use Review Application

Regulatory Agencies

In Colorado, as of November 2018, if a person wants to start a school for young children (anyone under age 7), that person will be guaranteed a lot of interaction with the following regulatory agencies:

Local Zoning for County or City, regulating whether a certain property can be used as a Child Care Center. (This also often includes Transportation and Health Dept regs for that County or City)

Local Fire District or Department, regulating fire safety for any facility.

Local Health Department, regulating health code for Child Care Centers

Department of Human Services, Division of Early Care & Learning, regulating child care licensing, staff qualifications, background checks and fingerprinting, etc…

You may also find that you get to dip your toes into other regulatory waters, just for fun! For instance, if the property you are licensing uses a well for water supply, you will get to be in regular communication with the Department of Public Health and Environment, Drinking Water Quality Compliance Division and Ground Water Commission.

The property we plan to zone and license as a child care center is also in need of a new septic system, in order to be in compliance with the numbers of people who will, in theory, be using our facility. The funny part is: since we are a forest school, we almost never plan to be at the school’s licensed facility. But again, this is about compliance with regulatory agencies. And so, a new septic we shall have. I’m telling you this because FUNDRAISING will be a big part of our process for getting our school zoned and licensed. We are going to show our work in that arena as well, because this your process may also include fundraising and that in itself can be intimidating.

It’s an exciting and scary and rewarding process to start a forest school. I’ve started other schools before, but this is my first forest kindergarten and so far the process is like solving a great mystery. I hope you will join me as I show my work and hopefully, learn a few tricks that will make your journey easier.

We do this for the children, for the future of our planet, and for ourselves. May we know and love ourselves through the whole process. Come with me! We make the road by walking.

Wee Folk Forest Kindergarten Students in a Bird’s Nest of Their Creation, Summer 2018

Wee Folk Forest Kindergarten Students in a Bird’s Nest of Their Creation, Summer 2018