Frequently Asked Questions
- 1. What is a typical day like?
The children can be brought to the kindergarten between 7am and 8am, at which point we leave together. We meet with the children and teacher who arrive on the train and have our morning circle in the forest; the children greet one another, we talk about the day's important topics, sing songs, etc. After we have walked a bit and the children have had a chance to play, we all have breakfast together. We then spend about an hour on an activity, for example a nature exploration, an experiment, arts and crafts, games, or making music. At the end of our outdoor time we have a closing circle; we talk about what the children have experienced and what is planned for the afternoon and the next few days.
We come in from the forest at about 11:30am and prepare for lunch (hand washing, table setting, etc.). After lunch, the children take a nap from about 1pm to 2:30pm.
We have an afternoon snack after the children's nap and an activity is offered afterwards (arts and crafts, etc.). Weather permitting, we go outside to our playground made from various natural elements such as sand, water, bushes, a wooden house, hills, and wooden benches. The children are picked up by 5pm.
- 2. What do you do when the weather is bad?
From experience, this doesn't usually bother the children: this is more a parent's worry. We spend every day in the forest and learn to adjust to and appreciate all kinds of weather. Of course, it is very important to have the correct clothing, for example rain gear and multi-layered clothing. We also try to keep the children moving a bit more. There is an area that we can use to build a fire in the winter and if a child should get really cold, we start back to our classroom.
Only in extreme weather situations such as storms (falling branches pose a danger) and bitter cold (5/10°F or -10/-15°C depending on windchill) do we seek the shelter of our classroom.
- 3. How are the children dressed for a day in the forest?
The children should be dressed according to the season and weather. It is important that the children are dressed in layers during the winter months so that single layers can be taken off depending on the outside temperature how much the children are moving about. It is best to have a pocket of air between the skin and the clothing, which is also accomplished with functional long underwear or wool undershirts. For the fall and winter months, it is important that the children wear wind and waterproof clothing.
Their shoes should be warm and waterproof; Gore-Tex shoes being the most reliable. Rain gear is a must have for rainy weather, this means: waterproof pants or bibs, a rain coat, rubber boots, and a waterproof hat or hood. A hat doesn't just protect against the sun and insects, it also keeps rain away from the child's face. The children should all wear sun hats during the summer months as well as long, thin pants and thin long-sleeved shirts, since ticks are an issue during this time of year. (see #6) All shoes worn in the forest kindergarten should have ample foot support.
- 4. Where do the children go to the bathroom?
Each of the areas that we use in the forest has a clearly defined and spatially recognizable “toilet area” with a spade and toilet paper outside of the play area. Attention is paid to cleaning the children's hands after they have gone to the bathroom; we carry water and lava dirt with us at all times for this purpose. Experience has shown that children rarely have bowl movements while we are outside in the morning. Once we have returned to the kindergarten building, the children can use the normal restrooms.
- 5. What should the children bring to forest kindergarten?
Every child should have a piece of an isolating mat for resting and sitting on at breakfast time. A box with breakfast and a children's thermos can and cup (or water bottle during the summer) should also be in your child's backpack. It is a good idea to send the children with hot, sweetened tea or apple juice mixed with hot water on cold days as an extra source of energy.
- 6. How can my child be protected from ticks?
The children should wear closed shoes, long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and some sort of head covering to provide protection from ticks while outside. We check the children for ticks once we return inside after a morning in the forest and can remove any if wished. The risk of contracting lime disease is low if ticks are removed within the first 12 hours. Parents are informed of the symptoms of lime disease and FSME so that they are able to recognize the first signs of infection.
- 7. Does Echinococcosis (caused by the parasite Echinococcus multilocularis) pose a treat?
The danger of contracting Echinococcosis (or hydatid disease) is low since we do not live in a high risk area. Tapeworm eggs, which originate in dog, fox, and cat excrements, stick onto plants. When these plants (e.g. blueberries) are eaten, it is possible for the tapeworms to infect humans as well. The children are therefore strictly prohibited to eat any berries or forest fruits raw. They are also not allowed to touch any dead animals.
- 8. Isn't there a higher risk of injury in the forest?
The children are in constant movement in the forest and learn to fall, climb, stand up, and catch themselves on all sorts of terrain. Because of this experience, they learn to judge themselves better (when climbing a tree, for example). This continual practice leads to the inevitable improvement of balance and coordination, which in turn helps protect the children from injuring themselves.
We are trained in first aid and have a first aid kit and cell phone with us at all times.
- 9. Do children develop exceptional motor skills in forest kindergarten?
According to the WHO, two thirds of all children are not physically active enough. Physical inactivity often leads to postural deformity, obesity, mental-health problems, and coordination difficulties. In the forest, the children "re"learn the natural movements that so many have forgotten. The terrain is often rough and the children adapt well to the situation, training their gross motor skills. They are also constantly refining their fine motor skills by building moss-houses, chestnut-animals, boats, etc. (see #10).
- 10. I've heard that children attending forest kindergartens don't have as refined fine motor skills?!
Fine motor skills can be trained during the time spent outside, too. For example, we take materials for arts and crafts projects into the forest with us. The handling of natural materials such as spruce needles can be beneficial for the development of fine motor skills as well. We also have the opportunity to pay special attention to each child's individual development during the afternoons spent inside the kindergarten building.
This form of "integrated forest kindergarten" fully follows Dr. Peter Häfner's recommendations in his study of the school readiness of forest kindergarten children (2002): "This form of preschool is, in my opinion, also optimal in the situation where the "best" of each style of preschool studied here are combined with one another. The forest kindergarten can provide in the morning the freedom that children need for a natural and healthy development at this age, while the traditional preschool can offer further activities geared toward the acquisition of culturally based skills in the afternoon (for example through led arts and crafts projects or collective singing and dancing)."
- 11. How well will my child be prepared for school in a forest kindergarten?
Dr. Peter Häfner studied precisely this question in his dissertation. He concludes: "If the results of my study are combined together, it is clear that the children who have attended forest kindergartens are a hopeful group of school children, especially considering the alarming findings of the PISA-study. … They have an evident advantage over their classmates from traditional preschools in respect to their fantasy and creativity as well as their classroom cooperation, social behavior, and motivation. "
We also have special weekly activities for the children in their last year of kindergarten to prepare them for first grade.
Dr. Peter Häfner's study (in German) "Kindergarten in nature and forest in Germany : an alternative to traditional kindergarten in the Pre-school education"
- 12. Do the kids spend the whole day just playing in the forest?
We believe that free, unguided play in the forest has a potentially important role for the children, as they use this play to process experiences and learn new skills. It is important for their social behavior and the expression of their feelings. By choosing situations themselves which they can create, master, and influence, they improve their confidence, initiative, and personal responsibility.
There are opportunities, both in the morning and afternoon (for example in the morning circle), for us to talk with the children about their experiences, feelings, and other current issues. We also use this time to sing songs and dance. For example: at the beginning of spring, we take time to talk about the spring - what makes it different from the other seasons, what is happening in nature during this time, how we recognize this season, etc. - and we sing songs about spring and dance. We also offer educational activities and project weeks directed at specific themes (see #13).
- 13. What kind of educational offers do you have?
Educational offers have a special meaning for us. The teachers prepare and lead games, experiments, investigations, and challenges as well as arts and crafts and building projects.
Our time spent in the forest enables us to handle many of our themes and their subject matter action-oriented and in touch with the children's daily reality, since the children spend their time immersed in the "field of study."
Die Kinder können den Wandel der Jahreszeiten, die Veränderungen in der Natur, das Wetter sowie das Leben von Säugetieren, Vögeln und Insekten in der Natur selbst miterleben, beobachten und erkunden, wodurch sie umfangreiche Sachkenntnisse auf diesen Gebieten erlangen.
Zudem werden wir 2-3 Projekte im Jahr durchführen, die sich über einen längeren Zeitraum (1-4 Wochen) erstrecken und so ein Thema (z.B. Wasser, andere Kulturen) vertieft und ganzheitlich bearbeitet werden kann.
- 14. What are the advantages of a forest kindergarten compared to a traditional preschool?
There are many advantages, only some of which we mention here. For
more detailed information, please read our Philosophy.
Room and Quite
The children have enough room to be
exactly that - children. No tight quarters, in which the children
are quickly overstimulated. In the forest, the children can take
the room that they need - they can find a spot to be alone or an
open area to romp and shout. It is especially important that the
children are able to experience the silence of the forest, an
asset in our hectic, overstimulating day-to-day life. The children
are thus markedly even-tempered and less aggressive.
A strong immune system
Since the children spend less
time in overheated, overfilled closed areas where bacteria are
easily spread, they tend to be sick less often. The fresh air,
exposure to all kinds of weather, and increased movement also
boosts the children's immune systems.
Creativity and Fantasy
The opportunity to build,
create, design, and influence something is important to children.
Since there aren't any ready-made toys in the forest, the children
feel encouraged to use the available natural materials in
innovative ways to develop possibilities for play. This potential
cannot be compared to that of rooms with ready-made
Since there are no ready-made
toys, the children have to communicate more about what they want
to do with what materials and what needs to be built or designed
(for example, a boat, a store, or a street) for that use. This
encourages the development of communication skills.
Teaching the senses
The forest offers optimal
conditions for the training of touch, balance, and coordination.
Play and experimentation with the various forest materials as well
as with the many movement possibility that our bodies have to
offer (for example, climbing, crossing hindrances, running on
different terrains, rolling down hills, jumping off rocks...)
improves not only the children's perceptions of their own bodies
but also their self-confidence. The children are free to move as
they like in the forest, burning off their natural abundance of
energy and simultaneously training their gross motor skills. Well
developed gross motor skills are the foundation for the
acquisition of fine motor skills.
We have educational offers and
projects about many different topics in and around nature. (see
#13) The children are acquainted with nature through their
intensive time spent in the forest and with time develop a
relationship or "sense of place" with their special place in
nature. This development of a positive emotional relation to
nature is the foundation of the need and wish to preserve and
protect nature. We also show the children concrete ways of
protecting and preserving nature. This way, the children learn to
assume responsibility for both humans and nature.
- 15. Where is the Ilmenau forest kindergarten?
Our forest kindergarten building is located in the children's camp "kid's life" in Ilmenau-Roda, surrounded by forest and in walking distance of many different natural areas (for example meadows, forest, streams). The transportation connection to Ilmenau is quite good, since the train between Erfurt and Ilmenau stops in Ilmenau-Roda. We take advantage of this train connection and provide parents with the opportunity to drop their children off with a teacher at the train station in the morning and many parents carpool for the return leg of the trip. Here is a map of the kindergarten in Ilmenau-Roda, or check out "Forest Kindergarten Ilmenau" on GoogleMaps.
- 16. How much does the forest kindergarten in Ilmenau cost?
Depending on how many children under the age of 18 belong to your household, full-day care costs between 100€ and 120€ per month and half-day care between 70€ and 90€ (plus food costs).
© 2006-2010 Waldkinder-Ilmenau e.V.