Nature and Play Based Education
Forest Schools and Nature Preschools are a growing trend in education as the role of time in the outdoors and nature immersion is better understood in the development of healthy and happy children. The number of forest schools and nature preschools in the U.S. has grown by more than 500% since 2012. (See Map). (The Natural Start Alliance is a comprehensive resource for US forest schools and nature preschools. )Many books about forest schools and nature preschools are available, including one comprehensive book by author David Sobel, Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens: The Handbook for Outdoor Learning)
Forest Schools began in Europe and essentially provide child-led, unstructured play and outdoor learning through immersive experiences outdoors in all weather. The understanding is that there is no bad weather only inappropriate clothing. The programs are typically for children ages 3-6 and offer small class size (up to 12 children) and enough facilitators for a ratio of 1 teacher for 3-4 children.
Regular outdoor experiences and unstructured time in nature as provided through forest kindergartens and nature preschools, have dramatic and profound influences on a child's healthy development. Through play, children develop a host of important skills, such as creativity, critical thinking, cooperation and confidence and the social and emotional skills that are the foundation for all learning.
Muddy Boots - CAPN's Forest Kindergarten Pilot Program
In the fall of 2017, CAPN received funding from PNC Bank which supported a pilot forest group program modeled after forest kindergarten. Muddy Boots our grant funded forest group modeled after forest kindergarten. Muddy Boots provided a safe space for children ages 3-6 to create and discover through outdoor play in all weather and all seasons at the magical forest site at the Woodland Pavilion and along the creed on the Sun and Shade Trail. Muddy Boots offered an opportunity for children to explore for themselves and encouraged them to think, discuss, problem solve and make new friends and build a foundation for lifelong connections to the natural world. To stay consistent with the forest school model, the Muddy Boots program provided opportunities for 12 children along the three program facilitators to maintain a ratio of one facilitator for every four children.
Though the grant-funded program was discontinued in 2019, Muddy Boots provided a model and inspiration for others and demonstrated the considerable interest in such programs within the region. Following the launch of Muddy Boots, the first Louisville area forest preschool, Thrive Forest School at Creasey Mahan was created in 2017. Now heading into its third year in 2020, Thrive has doubled the number of children first enrolled and offers half day programming five days a week.
Forum on Forest Kindergarten and Nature Preschools
In March 2019, CAPN hosted a Forum on Forest Kindergarten and Nature-Based Learning at Bernheim. The participation demonstrated the growing interest and support for expanding these opportunities for children in the region. . More than 40 educators and advocates for outdoor education attended the forum, highlighting the considerable interest in outdoor learning and nature immersion within the region. Jean Lomino, the director of the Wauhatchie Forest School in Chattanooga, TN, who has pursued partnerships with to provide similar programs in public scho0ls, served as the keynote speaker, and gave a public talk at the Louisville Nature Center. Presentations were provided by educators from the Muddy Boots facilitators, educators at regional nature preschool and forest schools, including Thrive, the Red Oaks Forest School in the Red River Gorge and the Cincinnati Nature Center's nature preschool.