Wee Folk Forest Kindergarten
A Winter’s Day with the Wee Folk
Lisa Gibson, mother of Lyra, age 5
As we walked up the dirt road to meet up with her Forest Kindergarten class, my daughter told me, “it is all brown in the forest but I feel calm in nature.” She was right, the scene was all brown, different shades and textures. Not showy nature but the kind that feels like slipping into a favorite pair of hiking shoes or a well-loved hoody that kept you warm on foggy nights. I felt that comfort again when one of the students covered my outstretched legs with dry leaves. Leaves that formed a soft crinkly blanket as my blue jeans merged into brown earth.
Spending time with the kids in nature, I was once again reminded that the payoff doesn’t have to be about a breathtaking mountain top view or untouched wilderness. Every branch, dirt mound and icy puddle is worth a second look. The Forest Kindergarten spot is reminiscent of the “backyard nature” that many of us grew up with. Situated on the site of a working farm, the land is dotted with evidence of projects, past and planned. When the property owners stacked felled trees, they probably did not imagine it as a balance beam, a wolverine den, or a lookout on top of a castle fort. In the absence of the spectacular, the children define their own spaces, trod their own footpaths, and feel a hands-on kinship with the nature around them.
Students are welcome to touch, dig, pick-up and move. Dirt, sticks and leaves are the tools, the toys, and the backdrop. One funky curved stick joined our class as a dragon on the day I was visiting. The “dragon” allowed the kids to practice the developmental skills critical for preschoolers. First, they came to agreement that it was to be respected as a dragon and the type of powers it was granted. They worked on how to share the dragon and how to resolve when the dragon accidentally bumped another student. When class was over the dragon was not stowed in a toy bin, but retired on the ground with the countless other sticks. Tomorrow it may be transformed into the wall of a house or a witches’ broomstick. Or it may just break down bit by bit into the forest carpet never to re-live its day of triumph.
Other adaptations of the environment are more intentional. On my visiting day, I was grateful for the addition of a fire-pit built by the families on a weekend work day. Snack time is the highlight of any preschool, but there is something magical about munching apples and crackers around a fire. A riveting oral story helps too. I’m glad my daughter is learning the valuable life lesson that food always tastes better outside. The smell of smoke lingers on her clothes and hair, and all that afternoon I’m transported back to the comfort of our campfire in the forest.
None of this exploring would be possible without the guidance of Teachers Elizabeth and Ethan who seem to get just the right balance between leading and allowing to happen. I am grateful for their bravery to swap a heated and predictable classroom for a pair of wool long johns and the changeability of the Colorado outdoors. Our kids benefit from their courage. I hope my daughter will hold onto these feelings of awe and respect for nature as she grows up. I trust she will, because on one sunny morning in January, I rediscovered the joy of playing in the forest.