Almost a decade ago, while I began my journey in early childhood education, I watched a youtube video of a forest kindergarten somewhere in Sweden. As I witnessed the children no older than 5 or 6 using using knives, climbing trees, cooking over open flames and playing with sticks, I knew that I had to do this work, that I had to bring this freedom of childhood to our children. So many of my fondest memories as a child are set in the forest or meadows, building forts and floating leaf boats down streams. However, what I was witnessing in the indoor preschool classrooms, however good the intentions, was stifled joy and the suffocation of play- a child's most important avenue of learning. Right then I knew that being in connection to nature was the key and essential to wholesome living.
It took me many years to take the leap and move out of the city, but the seed had been planted in my heart that one day I would start my own forest kindergarten. Since then, the nature movement has grown exponentially in the United States. Science is backing up what native cultures have known for centuries- that being in nature (especially in the early years) creates neural pathways in the brain that help children problem solve,self-regulate, become more creative and also boosts immunity (among many other things!). Not only that, but learning the ways of our Earth builds up a sense of place and belonging which in turn fosters a deep, loving connection to all living things. This, I think, is essential in a world of instant gratification and disconnection to the materials we use and food we eat. For example, when a child observes and works in building a shelter with a group of peers and guiding adults, that child is learning what materials work or do not work, the sequencing in the placement of the different parts, how to ask questions, strengthens muscle tone, how to plan ahead and that the resources we need are all around us all the time. It also takes time for it to manifest, and when it does, the feeling of accomplishment is priceless.
When I planted the seed for the forest kindergarten, I had no idea that the seed would grow into what my life looks like now. I had a vision of learning wilderness and primitive skills for myself and so I signed up for an adult class at the Flying Deer Nature Center when my son was about 1 and still nursing. My human glasses turned rainbow colored and my heart was full in ways I had never witnessed. Maybe in part because I had stepped into motherhood, but also because the connection with the people around me was so touching- people saw me as a valued member of the group with all my strengths and passions in the spotlight. I saw that I was worthy of so much more than the standard I had set up for myself up until that point. In the end, we all crave authentic connection and that is what I had been lucky enough to find.
Over the past 2 years I have mentored children and youth of all ages and have been mentored by some of the most incredible people - Devin Franklin, Michelle Apland, Josh and Theresa Wood, Kevin Bose, Dan Corral and more. Today, these same people performed a simple ceremony for me as I launch a new Forest Kindergarten program in Fall. I was asked to lead myself and the group in part of it- a symbol of my capacity to be leader. To be handed over this pot of soil, with a sprout growing strong, full of trust and support is more than anything I could have dreamed of.
As I grow into this role, I shed a lack of self-respect, I shed shame of feeling inadequate and I shed unexpressed joy and playfulness!
I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart. I thank my intuition for guiding me to this point in my career. I thank all of creation for my life on this Earth.