No more witches and scary wolves: Rethinking the forest

In our childhood we were taught that the forest is no place for children. In fairy tales the forest is presented as threatening and full of danger. Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and others need to protect themselves against hungry wolves and evil witches. Today, the natural forest full of danger has been replaced by virtual forests, and we constantly battle with our children to leave the small screens and to simply go outside. Now is the time to rethink the forest.


A unique program of The Partnership for Regional Sustainability and the Ministry of Education, that trains kindergarten teachers for education in nature inspired by the world forest kindergarten model, is underway, and we now have the opportunity to tell you about the approach that stands at its foundation. We met with Irit Lador, Director of Education in The Partnership for Regional Sustainability, to discuss the Education in Nature program.

There aren’t so many forests in Israel. So what is the forest kindergarten model? 
“When we talk about the forest and nature, we don’t mean a trip to the Black Forest in Germany or the rainforests of Brazil. Education in the forest is an analogy for education that doesn’t take place within the four walls of the classroom, but rather, in the natural environment that borders our residential area. We are talking about educational processes that take place in the natural environment with the understanding of the positive impact of nature on emotional, cognitive, motor and social development of children”.


Isn’t this a step backwards?
“Today we know that distance from the natural environment has a price. One of the aims of this process is to enable our affinity for nature, which exists within us from the moment we are born, to continue to exist even when we mature within a world of walls and screens. We want to provide the educational staff, and through them also the children, a unique educational experience that puts our direct connection with the “real world” in the center: contact with the earth, the breeze on our faces, the smell of the spring flowers and the changing landscape”.

I’ts sounds a bit naïve in a time when educational institutions are trying to keep up with progress and doing everything to fitting out classrooms with advanced technological equipment.
“This is a long-term process that creates difficult challenges for the formal education system in Israel. The partnership with the Ministry of Education is very important for the success of the process. To this end, a national steering committee has been established, headed by Barbara Anders, a national


instructor for early childhood environmental education; its members include representatives from the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Green Network, the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel and Ron Meltzer (kindergarten teacher in Gan Keshet, a forest kindergarten in Mitzpe Ramon). Together we will be able to allow this conscious revolution to take place”.

What are your sources of inspiration? How does it work in the world?
“Programs in the style of forest kindergartens/education in nature work in different ways throughout the world and even here in Israel: Gan Keshet in Mitzpe Ramon, a forest education initiative in Givat Ada and in other places. The common denominator is going outside, spending time and learning outside of the kindergarten or school classroom. We are currently tailoring the program to kindergarten-age children and it is designed for kindergarten teachers. The ideological approach of forest kindergartens around the world is backed up by studies and abundant professional literature. The approach is underpinned by two foundation stones – early childhood education, that sees the importance of nature and its contribution to child development in the

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early years, and environmental education – education in the environment, about the environment and for it, that sees importance in its implementation even during early childhood”.

What content will be taught in the program? What will the participants leave with at the end?
“The emphasis is not necessarily on content, but rather on experience. All of the program’s meetings will take place outside, in the Nature Park of Ramat Hanadiv. Since we want to grow non-sterile children, who get dirty from mud and benefit from it, the participants will enjoy hands-on practical experiences. The content will deal with the ethos of education in nature in Israel and around the world and the pedagogic principles of education in nature. The kindergarten teachers will gain tools and knowledge for building and leading the educational program outside and of course we will deal with education for sustainability. In practice, the program is led by Dr. Nirit Asaf and Dr. Nirit


Lavi Alon from the educational staff of Ramat Hanadiv, and at each meeting a guest instructor will provide participants with a unique experience”.

What do studies teach us about the impact of education in nature?
“Education in nature has many advantages and benefits on the cognitive, emotional and social levels. The natural environment allows a range of learning styles that do not always exist in the classroom. Studies point to many impacts, including: empowerment, self-confidence and self-efficacy, improved social skills, knowledge enrichment and understanding. Children in forest kindergartens are encouraged to examine their environment and study it using their senses. Learning outside is experiential and tangible. It is easier to understand a phenomenon when “you see it with your own eyes” or when you try it out yourself. Similarly, activities outside improve important motor skills and even affect environmental awareness”.

And why is this worthwhile for a school or kindergarten teacher? It’s more complex and requires more effort…
“Studies clearly point to the benefits of education in nature for educators, such as: diversity in teaching, creating motivation, curiosity and passion, giving expression to personal initiatives and leadership capabilities. I believe that with the help of early planning, allocating time for acclimation, the process of examination and constant study of achievement, each educator will be able to find the correct way to implement this unique worldview in their daily conduct”.

OK, we’re convinced. So who can participate in such a program and is it still possible to join the program?
“The program is designed for certified kindergarten teachers and currently the first cycle of the program is full. I hope and believe that the program will be successful and that we will continue in the coming years to train educational stuff for work in natural areas”.

photos from the”Forest School” course :