When I decided to introduce the forest kindergarten concept to my school district, I knew it would be a great deal of work to get the program going, get the land prepared, and plan, plan, and plan some more for replacing the traditional class with a outdoor learning area. What I didn't plan for was the extraordinary support I received in the process.
One of the core elements of my planning involves natural play, the ability of students to explore and play in nature in a more unstructured manner. With safety at the forefront, my class and I experimented with the world around us and I was able to step back and "let the kids be kids." However, while they were doing some amazingly creative and developmentally-appropriate things that nurtured their academic, social, and physical growth, one thing I felt the outdoor learning needed was a more structured natural play are.
I reached out to local tree services seeing if anyone was willing to be a partner in the creation of the natural play area I was envisioning in my mind. It wasn't long before someone responded, and boy am I glad they did!
Within a week of chatting for the first time, Dan and Nicole Jensen were waiting for me in my school office, ready to take a tour of the land and offer up their ideas for how we could make this play area a reality.After giving them some basic ideas they hopped on to the concept and it wasn't long before the first shipment of wood was delivered.
The delivered wood was used to design a "trail within a trail." Branching off the main trail, I spent a weekend with my daughter moving logs and shaping a relatively bland part of the land into a more user-friendly natural play area. With two main sections and branch-and-rock lined boundaries to these sections, my forest kindergartners now had easy access to two new building and creativity circles filled with branches and tree cookies. They build structures, use the stucks in our math and science lessons, and enjoy a good game " Math Stick Champion," a counting game I created for the regular classroom and adapted for the outdoors. Rest assured, whether as part of the lesson plans or the student's choice during natural play, the areas created through the wood donations of Dan and Nicole are a hit.
Since then, the Jensens have also provided seating stumps for the two main outdoor classrooms and are planning on providing future wood pieces to enhance all of the aforementioned areas. Additionally, they have offered to donate branches that will hold down tarps crucial to the prairie restoration project I am also coordinating on this land.