Try it. just try it.
In 2013 I watched the documentary School’s Out about forest kindergartners outside of Zurich, Switzerland. The joy and independence of the children inspired me, and my principal, Amos Kornfeld, to explore a more immersive outdoor experience for my students. I called on my former teacher intern Meghan Teachout to join the project and together we attended the first Nature-Based Early Childhood Curriculum course at Antioch University New England in Keene, NH. During the week-long intensive, taking cues from Patti Ballie’s experiences running the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center Preschool, Meg and I plotted a weekly Forest Day idea. After receiving grant funding from local funders, the Ottauquechee School Forest Friday got underway.
With our students, and their parents and grandparents, we built light infrastructure to support our five hour days in the woods adjacent to our small public school in Hartford, Vermont. We had a fire-pit, and a debris shelter latrine with a portable five-gallon bucket toilet. We lashed some limbs to support a tarp and that sustained us all year. Well, that and a dutch oven we would fill with apple crisp, scrambled eggs, stone soup, or hot chocolate.
Since that first year, which exceeded our hopes for increasing joy, independence and learning for our students, we have been overwhelmed with enthusiasm for the Forest Day idea from public school teachers near and far. With start-up training from Four Winds Nature Institute, we facilitated a local Outdoor Play and Learning Professional Development. Between 2015-2019 we shared challenges and successes with over sixty Upper Valley (VT, NH) educators. We also began working with full school staff on tailored contracts to provide support developing Forest Day programming. In 2018 we published a book, A Forest Days Handbook, to share lessons we learned developing a space and routines with our students, it was reprinted in 2020.
If you feel a calling to take your students out the door, to step on to the grass, or explore a drainage ditch, try it. If you want to have a read aloud under a maple, or snack beside some scrub oak, try it. If you want see what happens when your students turn over rotten logs, or wade into brisk streams; our first and last bits of advice are always the same: Just try it. – EM