Always outdoors - success continues
International Congress of Nature and Forest Kindergartens in Berlin
“The future of our children is at stake, and so is the future of all of us,” said Julia Klöckner, Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture, in the video message at the opening of the International Congress of the Federal Association of Nature and Forest Kindergartens in Germany. “We all have the same goals,” continued the Federal Minister. She is convinced that children have to go out into nature much more often and thus develop awareness for our nature and environment. The ministry follows this commitment of the Federal association, in order to promote it financially, so that further thoughts can develop and an international cross-linking is possible.
370 participants from Germany and abroad accepted the invitation “Always outdoors - success goes on” and gathered at the Freie Waldorfschule Kreuzberg in Berlin on 2 November weekend.
Forest kindergartens are at the pulse of time
The impulse of the common goals was felt by those present, like a red thread running through the entire Congress. The dynamism of the will was filled with rich impulse speeches from inspiring speakers from various countries such as Denmark, the Czech Republic, Canada, Asia and Germany. There was an abundance of presentations that were quickly lined up and that did not allow any small breaks, so that one felt reminded of the large lecture hall of the university. The attendees were hungry for the contents of the presentations and expressed this with a large subsequent questionnaire demand to the speakers. Impressed by the many nature movements for children who are active in the different countries, the legitimate need for recognition for the valuable work in the forest kindergartens worldwide is great.
While outside in Berlin on this weekend, autumn once again showed its best side, listening, dancing, singing, everyone inside played in the offered workshops and exchanged their common goals. The rooms were well filled and strong songs and atmospheric dances from the children’s forest with the singer-songwriter Unmada Manfred Kindel let workshop participants dive into the secret of the power of rhythm games, movement and dance instructions with exuberant joy and fun.
German Forest Kindergartens and their History
Dr. Christiane Richard-Elsener, author and coordinator of the interdisciplinary working group outdoor children in the ABA professional association, advocated in her presentation that children need stimulating open spaces outdoors and safe ways in which they can travel independently.
Helga Forssmann took everyone with her on the journey of the creation of the first travelling kindergarten in Germany, which was founded by Mrs Sube in 1968. Amused and entertaining, Helga Forssmann told how Mrs. Sube said to her in the morning on her seventy-third birthday: “Just so you know, today at noon I’ll tell her parents that you’ll be running the kindergarten from Monday”. From then on, from 1998 to the present day, Helga Forssmann enthusiastically and passionately runs the kindergarten on her own.
Petra Jäger, founder of the first recognized forest kindergarten in Flensburg, Germany, is often asked whether after 25 years she still has the passion to go into the forest with the children every day and in all weather conditions. Her answer is: “Yes, because it is a gift for me to experience the big and small adventures with the group in nature”. She is happy that the children all over the world - no matter where they are - feel at home in nature, develop and go strengthened into their future. Since 2017 she has accompanied the foundation of the “Nature School Flensburger Förde” and is part of the organizing team of the International Day of the Forest Kindergarten “Naturekids worldwide hand in hand”. After her presentation she invited all participants who knew the forest children’s song “I am a woodkid”, written by Marius Tschirky, to the stage.
More than 30 people sang in their respective languages, the 1st verse and the chorus of the song, which is now available in 9 languages. The text and the sheet music can be downloaded free of charge. The President of the Federal Association Ute Schulte-Ostermann commented on this day of action: “It is fantastic that this day now exists!” The day was initiated by Andreas Niesel from Lower Saxony. Petra Jäger also invited everyone to come to Zurich for the 2nd Action Day next year from 3 to 5 May 2019 for the International Conference. An international platform is in the process of being established, which is to be strengthened this weekend in Switzerland. There everyone can celebrate the day and sing along with the musician Marius Tschirky around the fire. Saturday and Sunday are intended for the professional exchange with the 15 ambassador countries of the natural children.
Denmark, Czech Republic and Canada live the concept of forest kindergartens out of conviction
Marlene Power from Canada, lived up to her name as an avid outdoor person, social activist, environmentalist and advocate for the rights of children in nature. She founded the first nature-based Forest Preschool and Forest School in Canada and an international initiative to promote nature-based education through professional forest and nature schools. Marlene Power developed Forest School Canada as an initiative within the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada. With her power, she was the only one to spontaneously host her outdoor workshop.
Tereza Valkounová and Johana Passerin from the Czech Republic captured the hearts of the participants with their lecture. In their lecture held in German, they were convincing with their commitment to the development of forest kindergartens in the Czech Republic. They are both very experienced and were able to gain a lot of practical experience in Germany and other European countries. They live and work in their country with all their strength and commitment to ensure that children have the right to live and learn in direct contact with nature, because nature is of central importance to children. The final speaker on Saturday
was Jane Williams-Siegfriedsen from Denmark. The former primary school teacher is now an author and director of Inside-out-Nature. Her problem children, as she told the audience in her presentation, are those who take no risks. She observes an ever-increasing worldwide trend to put children “cotton wool-wrapped” and thus take away every risk from them. So that Jane Williams-Siegfriedsen legitimately asked where this would lead the next generation. The Saturday evening was rounded off with circle dances and the Norwegian documentary film “Childhood” by director Margreth Olin.
Self-efficacy is a prerequisite for assuming responsibility for one’s own life
Torsten Heuer, certified sports teacher from Bad Malente, refreshed with his presentation, so that all participants on Sunday morning came back to speed and were awake. As a sports teacher, he made his audience laugh and gave a big round of applause when he talked about skills and abilities that helped the children get ready for school. An anecdote from his practical experience follows: A visitor once said in a Bavarian forest kindergarten: “Ah, but here it looks pretty chaotic what is lying around on the ground here.” Then the kindergarten teacher said: “No, they’re all ideas lying around here.” For him it is the art of pedagogy to let the children take responsibility for their own abilities in their self-efficacy.
Immediately afterwards, the presentation with the top-class speaker Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Beudels from the Koblenz University of Applied Sciences, Department of Social Sciences, highlighted the rights of the child in the “here and now” and “simply being allowed to be a child”. This right is strongly endangered by the substantial pressure from the outside to make a best possible future for them possible.
Annette Kessler, Senior Counsellor at the Elisabeth-Selbert-Schule in Hameln (she won the German School Award in 2017) told of her inspiring trip to Norwegian day-care centres as part of an Erasmusplus project. The winter in Norway is long and icy, yet the children are out in the wind and weather. She said that kindergarten teachers in forest kindergartens like to sit on their hands to give the children more independence. If children ask the kindergarten teacher in winter if they are allowed to go out dressed like this, he points them to the suspended mirror in the cloakroom. He lets them check for themselves whether they are sufficiently warmly dressed instead of being the adult who gives his consent and thus makes the children dependent on the evaluation of an adult.
Openness to forest kindergartens shows positive development in Asia
Mrs. Dr. Hee Jung Chang from South Korea, Mr. Wang Di from China and Mrs. Hiroe Kido from Japan reported vividly and informatively about the developments of nature and forest kindergartens in Asia about their countries. The concept of forest kindergartens continues to spread there. The first forest kindergartens in Japan were established in the 1980s. In the meantime, a large forest kindergarten network with 208 members nationwide has been established there. They spend the whole year daily in nature. These kindergartens are run by private voluntary parent groups, non-profit organisations or private kindergartens.
Mr. Wang Di has been organizing German outdoor training courses and lectures in China for several years, and he also advises institutions in China that would like to establish nature and forest kindergartens. Dr. Hee Jung Chang is in charge of the research work with the Korean Forestry Office for the examination “What kind of forest kindergartens suits Korea”. The research results have been published and interest in forest kindergartens continues to spread in Korea.
The Federal Association has once again organized a wonderful congress. The team of the association, which volunteered for this event, received a thunderous applause at the end. The widely travelled participants travelled back from this congress to their countries, places and forest kindergartens with well filled backpacks of inspiring ideas, technical contents and supporting motivation. And who knows which of them will be in Zurich in May 2019?
Editorial management: Christoph Lang, Nadja Hillgruber
Editorial design and implementation: Nadja Hillgruber, www.infothek-waldkinder.org
Picture credits: Photography & Video © Nadja Hillgruber
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