Many hours were spent researching forest kindergartens, forest schools, and nature preschools.
I approached my school administration about the possibility of starting a forest kindergarten in at my school. Basically, though still going outside regularly, one day a week would be focused on outdoor learning.
With the blessing of my administration, I informally proposed my idea to the director of curriculum and director of human resources in my district. After intriguing them with my idea, we met and discussed a potential game plan. This meant a more formalized written proposal, continued research and education on the topic, and a timeline for initial plans.
I researched many online and literary resources on topics like outdoor education, schoolyard greening, and forest kindergartens. I reached out and connected with teachers and experts on these topics throughout the country for ideas, insights, and general feedback on my concept. I visited a well- known nature center in my area, highly-regarded as a leading nature preschool in the Midwest. Based on all this new understanding, I constructed a detailed and research-based proposal and sent it in to my district administration for review. Then, I played the waiting game.
Late July 2015
The long wait was worth it. Before the August heat took its toll, my plan was approved. First step: design and build a trail. After initial planing and repeated tours of the land, brought in a good friend from my local hiking chapter who has a rich history of trailbuilding to get her thoughts. She was impressed with my design and even more excited about the land and the potential it had for my school. Based on this meeting and with the blessing of my district, I took my little lawn mower and built an initial trail.
Early August 2015
My first attempt at building a trail was completed. It was time on-site meeting with district administration and a local naturalist invited by the director of curriculum. though the e meeting led to a slight re-routing of the trail for unforeseen but valid reasons, the results of this meeting were excellent. The vast potential of the land was confirmed and the information about some of the plants and habitats in the area were important. The land was an example of a diverse oak savanna. Though the towering oaks scattered throughout were my favorites, the hickory and black locusts trees were also prominent. Though much of the grass was for grazing due to this lands earlier usage, the fields were alive with some native and some non- native (but not terrible) invasives. It was time for some more work!
Based on some brainstorming, the re-route was created. Additionally, some plants and trees were removed to help sustain a more natural and friendly feel for the land. Besides mowing the 0.4 mile long trail, a section in an open grassy area and under an amazing oak were cleared for large group activities. To help keep the trail matted down and to check for other areas to improve for the soon-to be student users, my daughter and I frequented the trail, though we did make an occasional stop at the adjacent playground as well.
Late August 2015
Excited for the opportunity to show off this wonderful new resource, I was graciously given some time at out welcome back staff meeting to describe the forest kindergarten process, report the steps described above, and lead a hike on the newly-named Timberwolf Trail so that my fellow colleagues could hopefully be inspired to bring their students into the outdoors. I was stoked as the district mowers that were now responsible for mowing the path had came for the first time that day. It was now a bit wider and more user-friendly. Unfortunately, a tree service was also contracted to come clear out some of the beautiful (and in my opinion, necessary for the habitat) fallen trees. I was bummed that most of these potential natural playgrounds and bird perches were gone, but still brimming received made all the planning, work, and time worthwhile.
September 1-4, 2015
The adventure begins! In our first week on the trail, we took daily hikes, started a nature journal, and utilized some of the resources in the land for math lessons and science investigations. Though we are in the "building up" phase of our outdoor time, I am already filled with excitement for what's ahead.
So, on that note, I encourage you to check in regularly so you too may enjoy adventures on the Timberwolf Trail!