Campfire Kids: Going Back to Nature with Forest Kindergartens

Published on Spiegel Online International, by , Nov 22, 2013 (Photo GalleryWith additional reporting by Nicholas Connolly).

Radical back-to-nature forest kindergartens where children are allowed to climb trees and play with fire have spread across the country. Will the concept of the Waldkindergarten become Germany’s next export success?

It’s a chilly November morning, and half a dozen children are sitting in a circle singing songs and playing games. Pretty standard kindergarten fare the world over, but these children are sitting on logs in a forest around a campfire. This no ordinary day care center, this a Waldkindergarten (Forest Kindergarten). 

Every morning, whatever the weather, 21 children arrive at Die Kleinen Pankgrafen, in Karow, a town just north of Berlin, one of more than 1,500 Waldkindergärtens across Germany. The movement is also spreading overseas with forest kindergartens in most continental European countries, big demand in Japan, South Korea and fledgling interest in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom …//

… Letting Children Teach Themselves: … //

… Toughening Children Up: … //

… Massive’ Mental and Physical Benefits:

  • Schulte-Ostermann says the risks are outweighed by the “massive” mental and physical benefits of playing outside. “Children who have attended a Waldkindergarten have a much deeper understanding of the world around them, and evidence shows they are often much more confident and outgoing when they reach school.”
  • She says Waldkindergärten may have started with hippies and academics — indeed, the movement originated in Denmark in the 1950s, with the first kindergarten in Germany opening during the 1960s — but parents now come from all sorts of different backgrounds. They include everyone from shop workers to doctors, nurses and, in one instance, even the offspring of a German punk band. “We have more enquiries than we can deal with, and there are not enough places even though more are opening up all the time.”
  • With the German movement progressing at a rapid pace, Schulte-Ostermann has set her sights on the rest of the world by holding the inaugural International Waldkindergärten Congress in Berlin this week for more than 350 delegates to discuss ways to spread the philosophy to even more countries, particularly in the US and the UK which have so far been the most hesitant to embrace outdoor kindergartens.
  • The first US Waldkindergarten, the Mother Earth School, opened in Portland, Oregon, in 2007. There are just a handful in the UK, including the Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery in Fife, Scotland, which runs for 49 weeks of the year and has 40 children enrolled.
  • Schulte-Ostermann says she thinks the US and the UK’s obsession with health and safety and regulations may have slowed adoption of the idea, but points out that forest kindergartens have proved very popular in Japan, which is also known for its red tape bureaucracy.
  • “Our biggest achievement was to set it (Waldkindergärtens) up in Japan, where education is so regulated,” she says in the staff room of the inner city Berlin school used for the conference. “We have helped them take it out of the authorities’ hands and give education back to the people.”

An Escape from Strict Rules:

  • Hiroe Kido, a Japanese student writing her postdoctoral thesis on the forest kindergarten movement, says there are more than 100 Japanese Waldkindergärten following the German model — a number that is expected to double by next year. “They are very, very popular in Japan because they are an escape from the strict rules in Japanese society,” she says. “Some parents are worried that Japan is becoming too stressed and high tech and there is not time to communicate with nature, so they really like waldkindergärtens.”
  • Kido says nearly all Japanese waldkindergärtens are oversubscribed despite parents being forced to cover all the costs. In Germany, however, waldkindergärtens are subsidized at the same level as traditional kindergartens, meaning parents pay no more than €80 ($108) a month to place their kids at Die Kleinen Pankgrafen.
  • Japanese demand for places spiked even higher following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. “Fukushima made the Japanese think again about our lives, and realize that we need to get back to nature more,” she says. “Life is very extreme sometimes in Japan.”
  • Schulte-Ostermann, who has just returned from a tour of Japan and South Korea, says that if Japanese people can realize the need for nature in children’s lives then she might be one step nearer to her rather ambitious goal of turning all of the world’s indoor kindergartens into waldkindergärtens.

(full text).


Waldkindergärten: the forest nurseries where children learn in Nature’s classroom, on The Telegraph, by Harry de Quetteville, Oct 18, 2008;

Friedrich Froebel & the Kindergarten Movement, on global post/everyday life, by Stephany Elsworth, not dated;

Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel (or Froebel on en.wikipdia … April 21, 1782 – June 21, 1852) was a German pedagogue, a student of Pestalozzi who laid the foundation for modern education based on the recognition that children have unique needs and capabilities. He created the concept of the kindergarten and also coined the word now used in German and English. He also developed the educational toys known as Froebel Gifts …; See also; External links;

english Weblinks Kindergarten;

Diplomarbeit: Kulturpädagogik im Waldkindergarten, eine Untersuchung zur elementaren kulturellen Bildung und ästhetischen Praxis, auf, von Wiebke Warmbold, 2002, 168 Seiten: Leseproben Seite 6: Einleitung …;

Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel on de.wikipedia (* 21. April 1782 in Oberweißbach; † 21. Juni 1852 in Marienthal) war ein deutscher Pädagoge und Schüler Pestalozzis. Sein besonderes Verdienst besteht darin, die Bedeutung der frühen Kindheit nicht nur erkannt, sondern durch die Schaffung eines Systems von Liedern, Beschäftigungen und „Spielgaben“ die Realisierung dieser Erkenntnisse vorangetrieben zu haben. Er ist der Begründer des Kindergartens. Dieser unterschied sich von den damals bereits existierenden „Kinderbewahranstalten“ durch die pädagogische Konzeption. Damit verbunden war die Erweiterung des Aufgabenspektrums von der Betreuung zur Trias von Bildung, Erziehung und Betreuung …;

german/deutsche Weblinks Kindergarten;

other Web-Links:

Interview with Noam Chomsky: Media Control and Indoctrination in the United States, on, Nov 19, 2013: This is an excerpt from the just released 2nd edition of Noam Chomsky’s OCCUPY: Class War, Rebellion and Solidarity, published by Zuccotti Park Press;

Sunken Sub: German WWII U-Boat Found Near Indonesia, on Spiegel Online International, Nov 21, 2013 (Photo Gallery): The rusted remains of a Nazi-era submarine have been discovered off the coast of Java, Indonesia. Researchers are looking through the Toughening Children Upwreckage,Letting Children Teach Themselveswhich includes human bones and plates with Nazi insignia, for clues that could identify the ship …;

American Conservative Politics and the Long Shadow of Slavery, on Understanding Society, by Elizabeth Anderson, Nov 19, 2013.

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