By Heidi Miller
Take a moment and think back to your favorite childhood memory. Most often when adults are asked to recall a cherished memory, those memories take place in nature and involve outdoor play. Every Friday, at the White Mountain Waldorf School, the kindergarten class journeys up into the school's 75-acre forest where they have created their own outdoor classroom. The children in this class are making those joyful memories we are all so fond of, and establishing a strong foundation from which they will continue to grow and learn.
Nature and outdoor play are fundamental in childhood and promote every aspect of the developing child. We understand the physical abilities that are supported while playing outside and how important vigorous activity is to the development of a child's heart, lungs and muscles, but it is also vital for healthy brain development as well.
Within situations that only nature can produce, our children are able to sharpen their problem-solving, reasoning and awareness skills. Their senses are heightened while outdoors allowing them to acquire competent abilities to observe and concentrate. Natural elements also give our children the chance to be creative and use their imaginations, which is ultimately what makes the greatest thinkers.
I spent a morning observing this incredible forest kindergarten, and I was pleased to see the learning opportunities offered in this environment. After hiking up a slight slope, a magical misty mountain in the eyes of a child, the forest levels off and opens up to reveal a cleverly put together classroom that the children and teachers have been building since the start of school in September. The lovely sound of a stream trickles nearby, while birds sing their beautiful songs overhead. There is a circle of stumps all thoughtfully placed where the children gather for snack and listen to their teacher telling descriptive seasonal stories.
When I arrived the children were working hard to complete their fire pit in time for winter. They sang and worked together, digging up rocks near the stream and carrying them one by one to create a circle for the fire to stay in. Tasks were easily delegated and accepted, for each child knew they must all do their part to get the job done. Our natural environment is a wonderful social atmosphere that encourages children to work together collaboratively in the real world. This environment also fosters relationships between children, as well as increasing an understanding of their relationship to other living things.
Nature and outdoor play also assist in the development of life skills as well. Children are able to develop their passions, character and integrity when interacting with the natural world, as well as given the opportunity to practice taking risks. Great confidence and self-awareness are instilled as these students build their classroom out of the natural elements around them. In this situation, the children are taught the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, which includes taking care of the earth.
I watched as a group of children carefully constructed "fairy and gnome houses" at the edge of the woods. Each child told adventurous tales of the tiny creatures who would soon come to reside in their thoughtfully decorated homes, complete with bits of homemade muffins left over from snack! There is a harmonious sense of wonder in the forest and a breath of fresh air that give these children the freedom to just be kids.
Our children's lives can become overwhelmed with hectic schedules and media everywhere we look. Being outside in nature can actually help in alleviating stress, depression and overall health issues that are prevalent in children today. The rise of obesity and other non-communicable diseases are causing serious health concerns for future generations, which is why providing children opportunities to learn how to live a healthy, active lifestyle with reverence for the earth is so important.
The White Mountain Waldorf School takes great pride in encouraging students to connect with nature as they develop a love for learning. The teachers know how important it is to provide opportunities for children to create those same meaningful childhood memories that we all hold so dear in our hearts. It is this combination of a connection with nature and those fond memories that will help children to develop a sense of identity and the skills necessary to grow into healthy, contributing members of our community.
Call Enrollment Director Denice Tepe for more information or to join for a tour at(603) 447-3168 or go to www.WhiteMountainWaldorf.org
Heidi Miller, who has a M.S. Ed in Early Childhood, is currently working at the White Mountain Waldorf School.
- Category: Education