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Forest Kindergarten – Study of preschool teachers’ perceptions of learning in nature

Nirit Asaf and Nirit Lavie Alon

Forest kindergarten is an educational approach for extracurricular learning, which includes prolonged visits to a fixed natural environment, where nature and its resources provide a source of free play and unstructured learning. This educational approach places importance on the educator’s strong affinity for the natural environment together with an understanding of the change in his/her role from a ‘teacher’ to a mediator and guide.

9.12.2016 (25)

In this study we examined whether and how preschool teachers’ perceptions of learning in nature changed following participation in a professional development program (PDP) on forest kindergartens. We also examined which components of the programme contributed to the change in perception and the implementation of the forest kindergarten educational approach, and whether it is possible to describe the development of attitudes towards learning in nature.

The programme took place entirely outside, in a fixed location at Ramat Hanadiv, and following the forest kindergarten approach, it took place in all types of weather and also at night. During the meetings, the preschool teachers listened to forest kindergarten experts who described the approach, were exposed to new ideas and participated in a wide range of hands-on experiences in nature: observing and listening, working with mud, foraging, being creative, playing games, storytelling, and more. The preschool teachers also shared their experiences and feelings, consulted with each other and helped each other.

השתלמות גננות

The study was a qualitative study using a multi-case investigation approach. It included 13 preschool teachers out of 25 who participated in the programme. The research tools were questionnaires before and after the programme, observations that documented the meetings, interviews with selected preschool teachers before and after the programme, reflective analysis, and an assignment that described an excursion in nature with the preschool children.

The results of the study demonstrate that all the preschool teachers changed their perceptions and nature visiting habits to some extent following the programme: the aims they defined for visiting nature become more diverse, free activity was added alongside structured activities in nature, and the frequency of visiting nature and the time spend in nature both increased. Some preschool teachers also implemented a forest kindergarten model on a fixed day in the week. All the preschool teachers indicated that they enjoyed the programme and were enriched by it, both in terms of the tools they received and the personal process they underwent.

The components of the programme that contributed to a change in perception were exposure of the preschool teachers to a new conceptual perception, meeting inspirational people, spending time in nature as part of the programme (that was entirely outside!), the connections forged among the preschool teachers, sharing and reflective discussion, receiving new knowledge, receiving practical tools, and having hands-on experience. Similarly, the great investment in organising the programme was acknowledged. Moreover, elements that may affect the process the preschool teachers underwent and the implementation of forest kindergartens were identified, including the challenge of accompanying adults to activities, the support of the local municipality and the Ministry of Education, the attitudes of parents and staff towards learning in nature, the nature of the preschool children, the weather, the preschool teachers’ familiarity with the site and environment, and further exposure of preschool teachers to the forest kindergarten concept in meetings and professional development programmes. All of these topics are recommended for further research.

References for further reading:

Bailie Ensel, P. (2014). Forest School in Public School: Is It Possible?

Carruthers, R., & Hoed, D. (editors). (2014). Forest and Nature School in Canada Guide.

Lindemann-Matthies, P., & Knecht, S. (2011). Swiss elementary school teachers’ attitudes

toward forest education. The journal of environmental education, 42(3), 152-167.

Maynard, T. (2007). Forest Schools in Great Britain: an initial exploration. Contemporary

issues in early childhood, 8(4), 320-331.

O’Brien, L. (2009). Learning outdoors: The Forest School approach. Education 3–13, 37(1),

45-60.

O’Brien, L., & Murray, R. (2006). A marvelous opportunity for children to learn. A

participatory evaluation of Forest School in England and Wales.

Sobel, D. (2015). Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens: The Handbook for Outdoor

Learning. Redleaf Press.

Stasiuk, P. Early Nature Lessons in Denmark’s Forest Preschools

Waite, S., Bølling, M., & Bentsen, P. (2015). Comparing apples and pears? a conceptual

framework for understanding forms of outdoor learning through comparison of English

Forest Schools and Danish udeskole. Environmental Education Research, 1-25.

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