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Children head into the woods for a new-old learning experience

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copyright the Chronicle November 8, 2017


by Elizabeth Trail


JAY — Julie Ste. Marie’s preschoolers at the Jay-Westfield Joint Elementary School will be out in the woods two days a week right through the winter months.

In a forest preschool, there are no toys, and few structured lessons. Children run, play, and explore in nature. Teachers may draw children’s attention to things around them, read stories, and count objects they find in the woods, but a lot of the day is spent in free play.

“All of the entertainment comes from their imaginations,” Ms. Ste. Marie said.

The one exception is the “mud kitchen’’— a cabinet in the woods with pots and pans and spoons that kids can use to dig in the dirt and make mud pies.

When children are allowed to climb, jump, and run to their hearts’ content in all weather, they are more grounded, Ms. Ste. Marie said, more connected with nature and with their bodies.

“We talk about kids that bounce off the walls,” she said. “In the forest, we don’t have walls.”

In a typical classroom, teachers spend all day telling kids not to be kids, she said.

“We have many fewer problems out in nature.”

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