The Uncivilize Podcast

The Freedom of Forest Kindergarten – Erin Kenny

“I am so excited to bring you this thought-provoking conversation with naturalist and educator Erin Kenny, an international leader in the forest kindergarten movement and the founder of Cedarsong Nature School — the very first US kindergarten based on the German waldkindergarten model. If you haven’t yet heard of waldkindergarten (or forest kindergarten, for that matter), it is very much as it sounds: an entirely outdoors-based early childhood education program which, in Cedarsong’s case, goes on rain, snow, or shine on five acres of magical native forest on Vashon Island, a ferry ride from Seattle.

But forest kindergarten is also so much more: Here, Erin and I talk about the crisis of nature deprivation confronting today’s generation of children and parents; why this unique style of education is a compelling and desperately needed solution; and the remarkable learning that emerges from the deep nature immersion experienced at Cedarsong. Amazingly, forest kindergartens are only just taking off here in the US (despite having existed in Germany for more than half a century and where there are now more than 1,500 in existence), so if you’re eager to join this burgeoning  movement as a parent or an educator, don’t miss Erin and this eye-opening episode!”

Listen here.


See adorable photos of 7 ‘forest schools’ from around the country

“Breathing the fresh air, being unplugged and disconnected, experiencing the peacefulness of the outdoors … it’s pretty fantastic. When kids go outside and play in nature, there are real benefits to both physical health and emotional well-being. The only problem is, kids are spending less time in nature and more time hooked up to their tablets, smartphones, and video games. Maybe it’s time to put down that device and take a walk in the woods!

That’s why in Denmark, “forest kindergartens” have scrapped the traditional preschool classroom. These schools take kids back into nature, allowing them to learn through free play and exploration. And this less structured preschool setup seems to be working. According to a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Danish schools outperformed American schools in math and science.

Luckily, Danes aren’t the only ones taking early childhood education back into nature. There is a growing movement of forest schools right here in the United States as well. Here are just a few of them (and they’re all pretty awesome).”
Read more here.

Daybreak UK

Erin Kenny featured on British morning show “Daybreak” in 2011.

Seattle Times

Outdoor Preschool Takes Root on Vashon Island

“A preschool on Vashon Island is held completely outdoors, rain or shine, and it’s so popular that it has a waiting list.

Indian plum. Huckleberry leaves. Tips of ferns. Cedar bark. Salal leaves. Douglas fir buds. Miner’s lettuce. All put in a Thermos of hot water brought to the remote site by teacher Erin Kenny. This is tea, which the preschoolers will drink at snack time.

That these youngsters, ages 3 to 5, can identify the plants and know which are edible may seem incredible. But not to Kenny, who created Cedarsong Nature Preschool two years ago. It’s completely outdoors. The school’s motto: “Children cannot bounce off the walls if we take away the walls.”

The Vashon Island school is so popular it has a waiting list. Only once in the two years Kenny has run the school has a class gone indoors. That was in the middle of the winter last year, when the snow was so deep the kids escaped into the library. School has never been canceled. The kids come equipped with their raincoats, mittens and rubber “muck” boots — better for playing in the mud puddle.”

Read more here.

ABC Nightline

Erin Kenny featured on the award winning show “Nightline” in April 2011.

WBUR On Point

Hey Kids! Go Outside, Already

“American kids today spend only four to seven minutes a day playing outdoors. We hear a new call to raise the ‘wild child.’

In the space of a generation, American children have been largely pulled out of nature. By one study, the average American boy or girl now spends, on average, just four to seven minutes a day outdoors. There are all kinds of reasons, but at heart it’s a lifestyle change. More screens, more protectiveness, more scheduled lives. American kids under what some call ‘house arrest.’ My guest today says that childhood divorce from nature is costing us, our children, dearly in physical and mental health and more.  This hour On Point: getting the kids back to nature. Raising the ‘wild child.'”

Listen here.

U.S. Department of Education

Green Ribbon Schools Award Winner 2017

“To achieve the Green Ribbon Schools status, the districts and schools had to meet three key pillars:
1.    Reducing environmental impacts and costs
2.    Improving the health and wellness of students and staff
3.    Providing effective environmental and sustainability education, incorporating Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM); civic skills and green career pathways.

The Washington Office of Public Instruction is proud to announce these four schools were honored as state Green Leaders for significant achievements in at least one of the three Green Ribbon pillars:

  • Cedarsong Outdoor Preschool (Vashon Island
  • Lakeland Hills Elementary School (Auburn)
  • Montessori Children’s House (Redmond)
  • Nurture in Nature Preschool (Tacoma)”

Read more here.

Al Jazeera

Erin Kenny featured on Al Jazeera America in April 2014.

Oregon Public Broadcast

Outdoor Schools Open Up New, Affordable Adventures In Learning

“That connection to the environment was a big reason Erin Kenny founded Cedarsong Nature School, the nation’s first forest kindergarten, in 2006 on Vashon Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle.

‘Learning outdoors is one of the best ways to create a positive and intimate bond with the natural world,’ Kenny says.

The outdoor preschool idea has been around for decades in Germany, Norway and Denmark. These alternative educational programs weren’t necessarily designed first and foremost with affordability in mind, but instead as a response to the trend of children spending too little time playing outdoors.

More than half of U.S. preschoolers don’t go outside to play even once a day, according to a Seattle Children’s Research study. When children aren’t outside, Kenny says, their connection to nature withers.”
Listen and read more here.

People Magazine

February 28, 2011 Edition

Forest Kindergarten: Woodland Creatures

“‘Forest candy-high in vitamin C,’ explains Erin Kenny, founder of Cedarsong Nature School, a year-round, entirely outdoor school for 3-to 6-year-olds on Vashon Island, Wash. ‘The children discover how things feel, taste and smell,’ she says. ‘Children allowed to immerse in nature learn creativity, cooperation and problem-solving.’ Cedarsong, one of a handful of outdoor preschools that have opened in the past four years in the U.S., is modeled after similar schools in Germany and Scandinavia, where studies have shown academic and health benefits for children exposed to nature. In an era where kids are spending too much time indoors, argues Richard Louv, whose 2005 book Last Child in the Woods served as an inspiration for the U.S. movement, ‘even a little bit of nature can help a lot.'”
Read more here.

Saf Baby Blog

How to Join the Forest Kindergarten Movement

“Cedarsong® is an entirely outdoor program for children ages 2-6 characterized by immersion in nature, unstructured time, flow learning and inquiry-based teaching. In our posts, Forest Kindergarten – A Better Way to Teach Our Young Children? and Forest Kindergarten: The Ultimate Classroom, Erin went into depth about what sets forest kindergarten apart from traditional schools, shared the profound benefits she has witnessed in her young students and addressed common questions from parents unfamiliar with this new approach.

For this article, we asked her to share information about what it takes to be a Forest Kindergarten teacher. Maybe, like her, you’ll find yourself inspired by your own child to make a meaningful difference in the lives of other children.”
Read more here.

Forest Kindergarten: The Ultimate Classroom

“In many preschools, outdoor time and authentic play are being replaced by an intense emphasis on learning letters and numbers in a very formal, structured and teacher-directed manner. However current research indicates that children learn differently from adults and that these early literacy and math programs and the highly structured indoor classroom environment may actually be detrimental to a child’s later academic success.

In 2007, I developed Cedarsong Nature School’s Forest Kindergarten, the first of its kind in the U.S. based on the German waldkindergarten model. Besides its commitment to daily nature immersion time, the Forest Kindergarten is distinguished by its underlying pedagogy which includes several key features such as emergent curriculum, interest-led flow learning and inquiry-based teaching style.

It is becoming more accepted here in America that there actually is great educational value in children’s play. Neuroscientists are discovering that the learning centers of children’s brains light up when children are engaged in play. There is also more understanding about the brain-body connection with young children; that they incorporate new information best when they are moving as the learning is taking place. All of these new discoveries point out the inherent benefits to an outdoor classroom as the ideal learning environment for young children.

The Forest Kindergarten early childhood education model is one of the best programs for keeping kids excited about learning and for building their connection with the natural world.”
Read more here.

Forest Kindergarten: A Better Way to Teach our Young Children?

“Do your children tend to fight more when they are stuck inside watching TV or playing video games all day? Mine do. They usually end up fighting, are more aggressive, moody, easily irritated and bored and not very talkative. However, when they spend the whole day outdoors in nature, they are the total opposite: happy, excited, love to tell stories…just in a great mood!

That’s why I am such a big fan of Forest Kindergartens and I really wished my kids attended one. No matter what season or weather condition, the kids are encouraged to play and explore the forest or other natural environment with adult supervision. The adults are assisting rather than leading the traditional way in the regular school system.

Forest Kindergartens are very popular in Europe, especially in Germany, Denmark and Switzerland. Germany has currently over 1000 forest kindergartens and it’s popularity is growing rapidly in other European countries. I have read many news articles of kids with ADD who have been ‘cured’ without medication by simply switching to a Forest Kindergarten. I have also read that these kids are better problem solvers, have a  higher critical thinking, are more creative and show more perseverance once they enter primary school.

We had many questions about forest kindergartens in general and the movement in the US and are excited to post this SafBaby exclusive interview with the leader of the US Forest Kindergarten movement and founder Erin Kenny of Cedarsong Forest Kindergarten located in the state of Washington. She also shares some tips for overly anxious parents.”
Read more here.

Nature is a classroom and children are quite capable of learning on their own through their observations and hands-on discovery.

– Erin Kenny

Bogs Boots

Bogs Footwear Announces Recipients of Outdoor Education Program

BOGS Footwear announces the recipients of the company’s Outdoor Education program – an initiative that donates 2% of sales to fulfill scholarships and grants that remove financial barriers and provide kids with the opportunity to grow and learn in the outdoors.

‘Here at BOGS we work and live in the outdoors and believe every kid should have the opportunity to get outside. Our Outdoor Education program is one way we can help foster the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts and ensure kids are connecting with their communities through nature,’ said David Earle, Marketing Manager at BOGS Footwear.

Cedarsong Nature School provides nature immersion classes and camps to kids of all ages to experience the outdoors directly. Their goal is to create a connection to the natural world and increase awareness, fostering empathy for the earth from a young age. This year the school is expanding to serve students with learning disabilities and we wanted to help out.”
Read more here.

Sierra Club

Act On Your Convictions

“When the kids show up in the morning for forest kindergarten, we meet them at the entryway and all walk into the woods together. Then we wait to see where the kids gravitate. There’s a beautiful mud puddle, and sometimes they just want to muck around. Or maybe they want to head over to the music blanket, and we’ll do a little musical jam; we write our own songs here. Sometimes students want to split up, which is why we’re committed to a small teacher-to-student ratio. We do a lot of imaginative play out here, and the kids love storytelling, splashing in puddles, digging in the sandpile, and ripping bark off fallen trunks.

Before long, some science lesson presents itself. A child notices something or asks a question, and we swoop in with a little lesson, even if it’s only 30 seconds long. They do have a short attention span, but when they’re interested, they can really focus. If they have direct experience with their hands, the lesson becomes that much more ingrained.”
Read more here

Outdoor learning: Education’s next revolution?

“A growing body of research suggests that exposing students to nature could yield extraordinary results. If you’ve been out of school for a while, your memory of time spent in classrooms may be bathed in a nostalgic glow. In reality, though, you probably spent a lot of your time looking at the clock, bored out of your mind. Most students are expected to sit in chairs and pay attention for as many as eight hours per day–and that is even before taking homework into account. Considering these long hours, it’s no surprise that many students report feeling bogged down by drudgery. An Indiana State University study found that nearly half of students feel bored everyday, half of students report skipping school at least ‘once or twice,’ and 20 percent consider dropping out entirely. Disengagement is — and perhaps always has been — one of education’s greatest quandaries.

But what if the problem with school is the building itself, the brick-and-mortar structure wherein rows (or sometimes semi-circles) of desks face an oppressive whiteboard? Erin Kenny, the founder of the U.S.’s first ‘forest kindergarten,’ Cedarsong Nature School, thinks that is exactly the problem. She established her ‘forest kindergarten’ on Puget Sound’s Vashon Island in 2007. Rain or shine, the school operates entirely outdoors, serving children ages two to six. Every day, parents drop their children off at the trailhead, and the kindergarteners proceed to a day of place-based, naturalist education on Cedarsong’s five acres of forest. Kenny reports that engagement is high and credits the student-led, outdoor curriculum.

‘As soon as they are interested in a subject and they light up about that,” said Kenny, “that’s when you want to move in and dispense accurate naturalist information because that’s when the deep learning is taking place.'”

Yaolan (Chinese family education website)

Overseas child care: look at foreign children’s kindergarten

Translated from Chinese.

“While many Hong Kong parents sent their children one after another to the play group or the ‘Interview Skills Royal Class,’ foreign parents flocked to a new form of kindergarten on the other side of the globe. The forest kindergarten model called The Cedarsong Way is becoming popular in foreign countries, and students enrolled in the extreme climate and forests, including ice and snow, are no exception. At present, there are hundreds of forest nurseries in countries such as Germany, the United States and Canada, so that children can face the four seasons of nature. The learning space is not a warm and comfortable classroom, but a real world.

Children have to face different climate and natural environments, they have to overcome the muddy, cold, hunger and other wild survival problems, of course, such a small child can not fully take care of themselves, along the way along with a professional mentor to protect the safety of children.”
Read more here.

Forest Kindergartens: The Cedarsong Way

Sharing her own journey of learning about what it actually means to provide book1immersive preschool experience in an outdoor woodland habitat, Erin takes us deep into the rationale, philosophy, approach and day-by-day management realities of being authentically IN the outdoors.

“Erin THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for writing such a great inspiring book. Our copy arrived today from Amazon and already there’s highlighted quotes and exclamation marks of approval in the margins. It’s an awesome and inspiring book.”