Forest Kindergarten (Ages 3.5-6)

Spring Open Visit ~ Tuesday, May 15, 2018  @ 11 a.m. RSVP Here!

Visit with our staff and peek inside the forest to see a Forest Kindergarten class happening on the land.

What’s Forest Kindergarten?

“Forest Kindergarten” is a form of early education based on the German model of waldkindergartens or “forest preschool.” Learning takes place entirely outdoors in all seasons. Children learn in a natural environment with experienced adults who assist their curiosity-driven play and discovery. In Europe, parents believe that preparing for school means developing social-emotional and motor skills first--academics follow later. There are many forest kindergartens in England, Scotland, Sweden and Denmark. In Germany alone, there are more than 1,000 forest kindergartens formally recognized and subsidized by the German government. The first forest kindergarten in the U.S., Cedarsong Nature School, began in 2008, and many more have emerged nationwide over the past decade. Merrohawke Nature School’s Forest Kindergarten launched in October 2013.

Forest Kindergartens differ from nature preschools in that our focus is on social-emotional and physical development in a 100% outdoor, natural setting. Modern childhood has moved indoors—most American children spend up to eight hours a day inside interacting with digital media and less than 30 minutes a day engaged in unstructured, outdoor nature play. Further, 89% of modern preschool children’s activities are indoors and sedentary. “This is important in a world that is becoming ever more digitized and removed from reality,” writes author David Sobel. “This flips the concept of real on its head. What’s real is technology and the built environment; the natural world becomes distant and ‘unreal.’”  Forest kindergartens seek to reestablish a balance of indoor versus outdoor time in childhood.

Teaching Philosophy & Curriculum

Our philosophy and curriculum are rooted in nature mentoring, a model of education that is derived from indigenous methods of teaching children about the natural world using tools and techniques from earth based cultures that have been time-tested across thousands of years. We plan our days with a carefully crafted set of invisible intentions and an equally passionate willingness to abandon those plans when nature offers up something else. Nature always leads. In this way, we are creating an invisible school where deep knowledge follows individual curiosity. Adult input augments and deepens each spark of interest, inviting the children to develop a broader knowledge base over time.  

Additional key principles include:

  • Total Nature Immersion: 100% outdoors in all weather and all seasons resulting in an intimate, deep connection to the natural world
  • Inspired by Waldorf Education: Songs, stories and other creative arts are shared to cultivate a sense of wonder, create time and space for children to be children, and nurture and protect childhood
  • Place-Based Education: Total immersion in local landscape, heritage, and culture
  • Unstructured Nature Play: Children are given space to create their own experience
  • Loose Parts: Imaginative play is supported with items that can be combined, moved, pulled apart and creatively put back together
  • Sit Spots: Time is essential to quietly observe the natural world
  • Low teacher to student ratio: No more than four students per teacher. Class size is typically 8 students and two teachers.

Each day is filled with what nature provides as we integrate cyclical lessons of the seasons. We greet our day at Fire Circle with songs and gratitude as we prepare for our adventure. After Fire Circle, we explore the land. We may journey through the thickets, tree stand, meadows, and caves. We may track animals, listen to birds, build shelters, use our animal senses and develop self-care habits (staying warm and well-fed, managing our mittens and backpacks, etc.). By midmorning/midafternoon, it’s time for snack.

The rest of our time together is spent in unstructured, imaginative play, which the children lead. Adults are nearby to assist but not to intrude unless safety is at risk.

Open-ended and interactive play in the context of the natural world is the true work of childhood, and is the most direct pathway to cultivating and strengthening divergent thinking, social and emotional skills, cognitive functions, empathy for the natural world, physical competency and confidence, communication skills, and building a long lasting personal connection to nature.

We embrace a resilient mindset and give children the opportunity solve problems on their own. Developing new skills and resolving challenges in the face of frustration can cultivate empathy, flexibility, self-awareness and self-regulation, together known as “emotional intelligence.”

We believe that developing initiative, persistence, creativity, and a capacity for problem solving are essential to future academic success.  


Recommended Reading, Viewing and Visiting

"Running Free in Germany's Outdoor Preschools," New York Times, May 18, 2017.

"Preschool without walls," New York Times, Dec. 29, 2015

"You Can't Bounce Off the Walls if There Are No Walls: Outdoor Schools Make Kids Happier--And Smarter," David Sobel, Yes Magazine, March 28, 2014

Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv

The Nature Principle, Richard Louv

The Geography of Childhood, Gary Paul Nabhan & Stephen Trimble

“Look, Don’t Touch,” David Sobel, Orion magazine, July 2012

Green Hearts Institute for Children in Nature,

Children and Nature Network,

Sir Ken Robinson, and

School's Out: Lessons from a Forest Kindergarten:

Mother Nature's Child:

Would you like to visit?

We receive dozens of requests during the school year to visit our Forest Kindergarten, both from prospective new families and from early childhood educators, researchers and college students. 

While our outdoor classroom is vast and our class sizes intentionally small, a visitor can be a large disruption to our young children's routines, and for this reason we are unable to respond positively to every request. 

Instead, we encourage you to keep and eye out, or inquire, about our Open Visit days, and plan to join us then.

For prospective families, we do sometimes make exceptions when schedules cannot otherwise align. Please feel welcome to email us here.

For all others--researchers, early childhood educators, and college students--we may consider an arrangement for a visit at a mutually agreeable time. Your visit may include three hours of guided observation in the field (accompanied by a member of our staff to answer your many questions that will arise) followed by one hour Q & A with an additional member of our staff, either in person or by phone within the next six months. As this is time intensive for our staff, who seeks to support you in making the most of your time with us, we charge a $125 fee. 

To further inquire about a visit, please email us here

We think the Forest Kindergarten program is of vital importance for our son.  It's not just an activity that he really enjoys nor is it a subject matter that can be taught in the classroom. I strongly feel that he gained immeasurably from the program last year.  He really came out of his shell, gained self-confidence and resilience. 

2018-2019 Essential Details

Rolling enrollment accepted through December 15, based on availability.

Location: Four Rock field site, 82 Boston Rd., Newbury. This program is entirely outdoors.

Ages: Children 3.6 to 6 welcome. (Must be 4 by February 2019.)

Session Length: Each class is 3 hours long

2018-2019 Classes ~ Rolling enrollment through December.
2019-2020 Registration Opens in early March.

Monday Afternoon

Tuesday Morning
Tuesday Lunch Bunch noon - 1 p.m.
Tuesday Afternoon

Wednesday Afternoon

Thursday Morning
Thursday Lunch Bunch noon - 1 p.m. 
Thursday Afternoon

Friday Morning

2018-2019 School year runs September 17 through December 14 and January 28 through May 24.  Winter break spans 12/15-1/27. Parent conferences are held in late January and early June.

Morning Class:  9:00 a.m. to noon 

Afternoon Class: 1-4 p.m.

Cost: $3285 for two classes per week. Most families choose a monthly payment plan: $250 deposit and then nine installments of $338/month. Lunch bunch is an optional $10/day or $265/year. (5% discount if paid in full by 9/1)  Scholarships available. Rolling admission based on availability through fall only. Attending a single class--or several additional classes--per week may also be considered based on availability

Class size: Class is limited to 8 children and will run with a minimum of 4 students. There will always be two adult instructors, for a teacher-student ratio of 1:4.

Instructors: Debbie Lyons, Ariadne Nevin & Sarah Sullivan

You can read more about Debbie, Aria & Sarah here.

We are so lucky to be able to be a part of this amazing program.