REI Presents: In Our Nature – Ep 3 | Are Forest Preschools the way of the future?


– [Eva] Why are you
taking video of yourself? – Because it’s part of
the movie that I’m making. Okay. Hi everyone, I’m Erin,
and this is my friend Eva. Can you say hi, Eva? – Hi everyone. – (laughs) Eva’s your
average three-year-old. She likes to create and play and imagine and explore and run around,
like a lot of running. (laughs) Which would be a nightmare
for your average preschool, but this isn’t an average preschool. There are no desks, no fluorescent lights, and no building whatsoever. (bright music) ♪ Hello, clap, clap ♪ ♪ And can you clap your hands, hey ♪ – There’s a new movement
of outdoor preschools sprouting up around the country, and it might be the wave of the future. (bright music) Hey everyone, I’m Erin, and
I’m interested in seeing what the future of the
outdoors looks like. Hi everyone, I just got to Seattle. I love this beautiful city. Mountains and the ocean. But of course it is still a city, so you have concrete and indoor spaces, but there are some
parents and preschoolers who are wanting to make sure
they stop and smell the roses, or know the roses, closer, like
more than just seeing them. Anyway, check out what I mean. – [Narrator] It’s hard to
think about your own work in such a noisy room. You couldn’t learn very much here. Let’s visit another room. It’s so quiet. A good room to work in, to learn in. (old-fashioned music) (record scratching) – So let’s back up. Knowledge has been passed down outdoors since time immemorial, but over time we’ve moved children’s
education from the outdoors to inside four wall and
under fluorescent lights. However, it surprised me
to learn that this trend of getting children’s
education back outdoors was started back in the ’50s. We first started to see
nature being incorporated into a curriculum in Denmark, and soon mothers began organizing schools that bused their children from Copenhagen to the countryside. But it took a long time for
this to catch on in the States. In fact, it wasn’t until 2010
that these outdoor schools really started to show up, and now there are more and more. In 2016, there were 150
nature-based preschools and kindergartens across the country, and then just one year later,
there as a full 100 more. Now there are nearly 500, which means more than 10,000 children are
enrolled in these programs. These new schools are
called nature preschools, or forest preschools, and are
based entirely on the idea of getting kids to learn through nature as the organizing
principle of the programs. So where did this idea come from, and why is the trend growing so fast? Well, a lot of people
point to Richard Louv as one point of inspiration in the U.S. Richard has been writing
books on nature and children for over 20 years. His book “Last Child in the
Woods” speaks specifically about where our future is heading and why it’s so important for children to connect with their environment. So I wanted to spend
some time with Richard at his house in California to learn more about what he has seen. So obviously the book
is about the importance of children connecting to nature, and this went on to be a bestseller. People love this topic. Why do you think the book
and the topic took off? – I noticed in my
interviews with families, that something profound was changing in the relationship between
children and nature. The parents knew it. Again, they couldn’t quite describe it, but they didn’t understand why their kids weren’t interested in going outside. As one little boy said,
“I prefer playing indoors “because that’s where all
the electrical outlets are.” – Right, I was reading that
in “Last Child in the Woods”. – I heard that again and again. And finally the academic world
began to pay attention to it because now there was scientific evidence that was backing that idea. – What Richard saw was
echoed in many other studies. Like how today’s kids age six through 11 spend an average of 7 1/2
hours a day being inactive. And of kids ages nine through
13, only about 6% of them will go out and play on their own. Instead, the average American child today spends up to nine hours
digitally connected, which maybe sounds like
a bunch of folks saying, “Kids these days,” and “Back in my day,” but maybe there’s a warning
in what we’re hearing. – Nature-deficit disorder, well it’s not a known medical diagnosis. Maybe it should be but it’s not. That opens the conversation
about what happens when we are disconnected as a species and as individuals, from the
rest of the natural world. What happens to our health, what happens to our physical health, our psychological health,
and our spiritual health. – Richard believes that
the more kids are outside, the more they will be grounded and the more healthy they will
be, mentally and physically. And he might be right. One study found that low access
to residential green-space can be connected to psychiatric disorders, from adolescence into adulthood, and another study found that
increased exposure to nature decreases or can reduce ADHD symptoms. Now, getting your kids outside today sounds like a fun, cool thing to do, but what about grades and
learning, and the alphabet? What do these schools even
do, how do they learn? (bright music) Okay, this is Tiny Trees Preschool, and we’re only about five minutes
for major Seattle freeways but in here I feel completely engulfed. – So I’m Kellie Morrill, I am the Executive Director of Tiny Trees. So we’re different in that we’re outdoor. We don’t have walls,
so all of our children are in public classrooms. So children at Tiny Trees are learning, they’re learning about science, they’re learning about resilience, they’re learning about self-regulation, they’re learning great social
skills and even academics all in an outside environment, just by playing and engaging
with nature and with each other and through the facilitation
of the teachers. – I wanted to talk to some
of the parents at this school to see what they really think. – I think just being able to be outside and moving their bodies all the time with all of their little friends and learning from their teachers outdoors has been so much better than being inside all day
would have been for them. – With this, the kids are up and around, and they’re not learning that they’re supposed to be sedentary and they’re not getting
yelled at to stay in chairs. And it’s like, they have
to stay in the area, but they’re allowed to wiggle. And that’s how we’re
supposed to be, naturally. – But the real question
is, does this work, or will kids be staring down their SATs, only remembering what tree
is outside the window? For that we turned to the researchers. Dr. Tandon has done research
on kids and the outdoors when it comes to learning
and physical health. – Physical activity is
important for so many reasons. There’s the obvious ones,
like a healthy weight status, healthy heart, bones and all that, but getting enough physical activity can also be important for
things like mental health and even learning and
academic performance. One strategy for getting kids more active is to have them be outdoors more. So research suggests that
when kids are outdoors they are running around
more, they’re moving more. So how do we get kids outdoors, whether they’re in preschool,
or at school during recess, PE activities, and in their neighborhoods. So having access to parks close
by and that feel safe enough for kids and families to be in. (bright music) – Well this is a feelgood story, isn’t it? Let’s make all schools outdoor schools. Kids know the names of plants, they want to befriend slugs. Well, there are some
barriers to outdoors schools and one of them is permanence. In Chicago, one school is being closed because it can’t maintain a permit. The Childcare Act of 1969 requires that preschools be in a physical facility. Something that doesn’t really flow with the whole idea of forest schools. Another major roadblock is
that laws require preschools to be secure from the public, and since these schools
are in public parks, technically anyone could march on through. One critique of these
programs is that historically they’ve been accessible largely only to white, upper
middle class populations. – When people think
about outdoor preschool they’re thinking about little white kids running around in the forest. It’s a very niche space to exist in, and so within that space
you would want to see the children who are in those spaces at least being representative
of the demographics of the areas that they’re living in. And so that means that we need to become better community members. We need to be talking to people more. We need to be listening to people more and figuring out how we can do our best. That means that we come back
and then we’re reflective and we figure out what we need to do to make sure that when we do partner with someone in the future, we’re being as thoughtful as we can. – If states aren’t providing permits it can be hard to get a
grant in order to assist lower income households. Colorado and Washington are
the only states as of now that are expanding the law
so that licenses can exist for forest schools like Tiny Trees. All to say, there is still a ways to go in getting the class demographics
to accurately reflect the diversity of the
places where they exist. ♪ Cedar, maple, hemlock
and the Douglas fir ♪ – After spending my whole
day with these kids, it really seems like an
outdoor focus for our schools is something we should be fighting for. – There’s growing awareness
that being outside in nature is a great place to
learn about everything. Not just about science,
not just about nature, partly because it stimulates
more of our senses than we get from a computer. Our kids are spending that much time blocking out those human senses. Isn’t that the pre-definition
of being less alive? – The really cool thing
about doing preschool outside is that we’re not confined by walls. We are able to get our inspiration from everything that’s
happening in the park, so the learning is 100% relevant to them and to what they’re
experiencing every day, and it’s pretty awesome. – The added benefit here is
not just that the kids learn, but that they build a connection to nature that lasts into their adult years and maybe that they teach
their parents a thing or two about caring for the planet. – I hope that it will
always be important to them to be a steward for the environment. I hope that having that
really solid base of that from preschool, that it’ll just
carry throughout their life and they’ll always come back to that. – As the next generation
grows up in a world that’s increasingly digital and connected maybe it’s time to reevaluate
our education system and use it as a tool to reconnect us with our natural habitat. And even though there
aren’t walls or ceilings, kids are still learning, and after spending the day
here outside playing in the mud and singing songs, all I know is this is the education I wish I had, and maybe the one I still need. – The stinging nettle is not good. – [Erin] Stinging nettle is not good, no. – It’s just, it stays
there for a long time and when you itch, itch, itch. – Hey everybody, thank
you so much for watching. We had a ton of fun hanging
out with these kiddos, they are hilarious. And we also just wanted to let you know that you may have noticed a little blurb on one of the corners here
throughout today’s episode. That’s a land acknowledgement. We want to acknowledge
the land that we’re on. This is also feedback
that we got from you, and we totally agree. So you’re gonna see that from now on so that we’re acknowledging
whose traditional homeland we are filming on. As always, let us know if you have more feedback in the comments and we’ll see you next time.

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