A school in the forest helps kids unleash their imagination in nature
At Chicago’s Only ‘Forest Playschool,’ Nature is the Classroom
The kids get to run around in fresh air, engaging in collaborative play with and without adult involvement and learning practical problem solving skills. They’re involved in caring for the garden, preparing and serving meals, cleaning up, helping to saw firewood for the fire in the winter, setting up bird feeders, and so much more. This is a place where we work together and enjoy nature in a safe, curated environment where children can thrive and do the enriching children’s work of play. We also love the teachers and interns. We have known Miss Teresa and Miss Audrey the longest and they are so amazing with the children, low interference and respectful. Attending the parent child program I have had the opportunity to see how organically children’s relationships grow and change, and how the younger children play a lot more independently than the older kids, who engage in group play. I also have loved watching the teachers work with the individual children’s strengths and needs when it’s time to accomplish tasks (eg cutting wood, helping make and serve snack, pulling a sled or cart).
The strength of the program, in my opinion, is that it is relatively unstructured. There are some teacher-led activities for the children to do (i.e. making candles, crafting cornhusk dolls and felt birds, filling the bird feeders, etc.) but kids fluidly move between these activities and climbing a tree, rolling down a hill, or making “cookies” out of mud. It is great to see children using their bodies, their imaginations, and the natural environment to develop their sense of confidence and competence in the world. These are opportunities that are sorely lacking for many of our urban little ones.
My wife and I have been blown away by our experience with Forest Playschool. Our son has thrived throughout his two years in the program, and we believe it has furthered his development well beyond where he might have been in more traditional preschool/daycare programs. Centered on early childhood development and learning through imaginative social play, the Forest Playschool utilizes Mother Nature as its classroom. The kids are outside every day, barring extreme weather conditions, and interact with each other in creative, self-directed play. As a result, our son has become fiercely independent, is confident in himself, and willfully explores imaginative play with others and by himself. Having a mix of children at different ages and capabilities all interacting together provides a unique community where the older look out for the littles, and littles learn from the older. The kids create games to play, problem solve, sing songs, put on plays, help cook, serve, and clean up after themselves, and countless other activities.
My son loved the Forest Playschool! His imaginative play blossomed into a whole new realm, filled with wild animals and forts, and his balance and strength grew tremendously as he climbed around on giant fallen trees, up hills, and into the (fortunately inaccurately named) Crocodile Pit. Having grown up around the woods in Michigan, I was delighted to find a place for him to get accustomed to being in a natural space under Teresa’s loving guidance.