Some European countries have a tradition in outdoor early education, such as Denmark, where children learn in nature since the 1980s. Kindergardens such as Bergman Nature in Romania are inspired by the Nordic countries, England, Germany and Japan and their pupils spend many hours in nature, two days a week, even if it rains or snows. The schedule includes activities inspired by Reggio Emilia - a pedagogy based on learning through experimentation.
Adina Horga, the founder of the educational project Bergman Nature Kindergarden, explains in an article about the franchise she created:
"The two days out of five spent in the forest take place regardless of weather conditions, with the exception of the rule being temperatures below -10 or the wind blowing at a speed of more than 25 kilometres per hour".
Sticks, tree trunks, flowers, mushrooms, leaves, all become teaching materials, used in activities even at the expense of toys. The result is striking: children are happier.
The stick becomes a sword in the hand of a Teutonic knight or a fishing rod, the bundled leaves form a bouquet of flowers for mum, the grass becomes food for friends, the tree trunk becomes a bus or a train.
The approach of "forest kindergarten, education in and for nature" is based on a basic rule: connecting the child with everything around him and that brings him physical, social and psychological benefits.
"The forest constantly brings new and different elements that stimulate curiosity and develop critical, analytical and creative thinking. If a small man wants to climb trees, the challenges will be physical, emotional, but also mental. The role of the educator will be to support the child in the process of discovering and achieving the proposed goal."
The guided but equally free play of the child acquires a different meaning in the middle of nature, and its observance by the little ones is one of the missions promoted by Bergman Kindergartens. Compared to the group room, children in a free space understand how the world around them works much faster. Adina Horga shares:
"What comes to my mind and soul now are the first attempts of children to build shelters for the smallest insects in the forest. The development of such a qualitative show from a human point of view can be imprinted in your memory and you don't want to let it go from there."
The curriculum is created entirely by team members, and each season brings to the children's attention a whole and diversified range of activities, depending on what nature offers.
Other alternative forms of pre-school services provided outside the educational system are pre-school centres run by local institutions, local libraries, arts centres, social welfare services, private businesses or NGOs.
The Comenius Foundation is also running a programme called Where There Are No Preschools which helps small communities to open pre-school centres and offers them support such as:
The Unicef manual on early childhood education states that most of the children are going to the pre-school centres very willingly, and the parents are more than happy with their educational results. Here are some of their statements:
"Ania is learning letters. She can count very well. She is a good listener, and she likes telling stories."
"Gosia can dance and paint very well. She's developing fast in her group."
"Julka is more self-reliant. She has her own play ideas, and she puts aside her things after play. She can get along very well with others in her group, she shares her toys."
"Krzyś is calmer now. He has learnt to work with others. He is more independent now he's learnt to ‘do without his mummy."
"Zuzia is open-hearted, resourceful, confident, more self-reliant."
"Wiola is always smiling, she often sings songs she has learnt at the Centre."
"Magda can settle to one activity for longer. She is more self-reliant, she has learnt some positive behaviour. She has also learnt a lot of different skills."
"Zosia is less withdrawn and more intellectually mature. She comes up with various play ideas at home and she has developed a taste for drawing. She washes her hands more often, she doesn't have to be reminded to wash her hands before meals."
"Grześ is more approachable and less withdrawn."
"Ala has learnt to share her toys. She's better organised."
"Natalka is more talkative and more imaginative."
The philosophy of education of The Comenius Foundation is that every child is a unique person that should be looked after by a caring and supporting adult; every child is a full-right citizen; any effort benefiting children should observe the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and any effort benefiting children should be appropriate to their developmental stage, and should offer opportunities to enhance natural curiosity, self-esteem, social skills, and other dispositions.
Another alternative in early childhood education is Waldorf, who's aim is to develop both thinking, feeling and will, aiming to cultivate in a balanced way the intellect, emotional and practical capacities. The way of working with children appeals not only to their intellect, but also to their feelings and their desire to move, to act, to work concretely. The young child lives in images and that is why a story, a fairy tale or a parable can be much more useful to him than a meticulous, scholarly, tiring explanation. The proven effectiveness of learning through play makes its use more and more widespread, even in the traditional education system.
In Waldorf kindergartens there is a family atmosphere, which derives both from the way the group room is arranged, containing elements of the home universe, that the child is already accustomed with (such as the kitchen area, the dollhouse and others), the use of natural materials (wood, clay, wax, wool, linen, silk, etc.), from the fact that the younger and older children are in the same group, as in the family, the older children taking care of the smaller ones.
There is no way of knowing what the future will look like, but it is sure that children need to be educated in a way that they respect themselves, each other, and the environment.
Share your experience, participate in the discussion and leave comments in our forum HERE.