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← Nature Kindergarten | Frances Krusekopf | TEDxVictoria

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Showing Revision 10 created 11/28/2018 by Rhonda Jacobs.

  1. Childhood.

  2. This is one of just a few photos of me
    playing outside as a young child.
  3. Growing up in the 1970s,
    people didn't take many photos.
  4. And they certainly didn't take photos
    of children playing outside,
  5. because it was very common
    for a child to play outside.
  6. (Laughter)
  7. (Applause)
  8. My sisters and I spent endless hours
    transforming our backyard
  9. into a cooking-show kitchen,
    an airport, a hair salon,
  10. or some other imaginary place.
  11. We would pull the contents
    of our basement playroom outside
  12. where there was more space
    and greater possibilities.
  13. Often, our play would go
    to the back alley,
  14. or it would go down the street
    to our neighborhood friend's house.
  15. I have no memory of my parents
    being anywhere close by
  16. or calling next door
    to arrange a play date.
  17. I imagine that these memories
    sound familiar to many of you
  18. sitting in the audience today.
  19. Think of yourself playing as a child.
  20. Now raise your hand
    if your play took place outside.
  21. Leave your hand up if your parents
    were nowhere in sight.
  22. (Laughter)
  23. Unfortunately,
  24. to far too many children today,
    being outdoors is a far, foreign place.
  25. Kids with an interest in going outside
  26. are often guided
    by their parents or society
  27. to stay indoors to avoid
    discomfort and danger.
  28. Or they are distracted
    by a wide array of electronic devices
  29. that passively entertain them.
  30. According to US research,
  31. over half of preschoolers
    do not go outside on a daily basis
  32. with their parents.
  33. This photograph of a couple
    of preschoolers on their iPads worries me.
  34. No. Actually, it scares me.
  35. Research in Canada suggests
    that children ages six to eleven
  36. spend seven and a half hours
    being inactive every day.
  37. In the UK,
  38. they found that over 40% of parents
  39. don't believe that children under the age
    of 14 should go outside unsupervised.
  40. So what is society doing about this?
  41. I want to tell you today about
    how we developed a Nature Kindergarten
  42. in our community
  43. to connect young children with nature.
  44. My story begins in 2010
  45. when our family took a four-month
    sabbatical to Munich, Germany.
  46. Our son, Niko, was four at the time.
  47. And given my enthusiasm
    about connecting children to the outdoors,
  48. you can imagine how excited
    I was to enroll him in a Waldkindergarten,
  49. forest kindergarten.
  50. Forest preschools have been
    part of a northern European tradition
  51. for over 60 years.
  52. There is no bad weather,
  53. only bad clothing.
  54. Send the kids outside, rain or shine.
  55. Have you ever noticed
    that it's usually adults, not children,
  56. who don't want to go
    outside in bad weather?
  57. (Laughter)
  58. Northern Europeans have long understood
  59. the benefits of taking
    young children outside,
  60. and so they developed these programs
    for three- to six-year-olds.
  61. Each day,
  62. a trained early-childhood educator
    would take the children outside
  63. to learn and play in unstructured ways
  64. and often with limited adult supervision.
  65. While Niko's program
    took place in a municipal forest,
  66. these programs have also been successfully
    established on farms and in city parks.
  67. Ironically, Niko and I spent over an hour
    commuting to his program -
  68. first by bike, then by subway,
    then by streetcar, and eventually on foot
  69. to arrive at the forest.
  70. While the children
    in Wurzelkinder Waldkindergarten
  71. spent part of their day
    in and around these caravans,
  72. it was their daily excursion
    to the forest or riverbank
  73. that was the part
    of the program that is unique.
  74. Along the way,
  75. their educators would help them name
    and notice berries, bugs, slugs.
  76. And when they got there,
  77. they would sit on the forest floor
    in a circular fashion,
  78. give thanks to nature, enjoy a snack,
    and then they would play.
  79. Occasionally, I asked
    for permission to participate.
  80. I was amazed at what I saw.
  81. What a world of difference compared
    to the co-op preschool model back home.
  82. I was intrigued by how young children
    walked one- to two-kilometer distances
  83. without complaining
  84. and often out of the sight of an adult,
  85. how puddles became invitations
    to create makeshift boats and get wet,
  86. and how the educators stood back
  87. and allowed the children
    to independently struggle
  88. with the physics of getting
    a stick into the ground
  89. to make a goalpost for soccer.
  90. I appreciated the care and detail
  91. that went into making crafts
    out of natural objects,
  92. rather than paper and glitter,
  93. and how the change of seasons
    were celebrated through song and dance.
  94. I was shocked by the risks that were taken
  95. when young children were allowed to swim
    in the fast-flowing Isar River,
  96. when they tied ropes around trees,
  97. and the children would traverse
    up and down the hillside in the dirt,
  98. when four-year-olds, my son included,
    were given sharp knives
  99. so that they can whittle sticks
  100. in order to be able to roast
    a sausage over an open flame.
  101. "Risk," it turns out,
    is not a four-letter word
  102. to German parents and educators.
  103. It is a vehicle to independence.
  104. When I wasn't participating
    in Niko's program,
  105. I took that streetcar
    a few stops further along,
  106. and I sat in a cafe, and I leisurely read
    a book or the newspaper.
  107. While this was initially
    self-indulgent bliss
  108. for a full-time working mom
    on sabbatical,
  109. the novelty ended, and I became restless
    to become productive.
  110. I am German after all.
  111. (Laughter)
  112. So I shared my woes of non-productivity
    with my remotely sympathetic spouse.
  113. And it is he who I should credit
    with the idea of a Nature Kindergarten
  114. because he shifted my thinking,
  115. and my principled mind
    started turning over new ideas.
  116. By the time we returned to Canada,
  117. I had not only experienced
    forest preschools firsthand,
  118. but I'd also read a few books,
  119. and I talked to several
    of Niko's educators.
  120. As the person responsible for
    the district's curriculum and programs,
  121. I was well positioned to pitch the idea
    of transplanting a Nature Kindergarten
  122. to a school district in British Columbia.
  123. My supervisor trusted in my capacity
    to start a new program,
  124. and I knew where to find collaborators.
  125. Early-childhood professor Enid Elliot
  126. was my first and
    most critical collaborator.
  127. Over a course of two years,
  128. Enid and I gathered
    a community of individuals
  129. from a wide variety of backgrounds
  130. who were generous
    with their ideas and their time.
  131. We all believed in the value
    of our own time spent outside
  132. as young children,
  133. the importance of play,
  134. and the need to respond to the factors
    that were keeping children indoors today.
  135. Together, we envisioned
    a kindergarten program
  136. at a school that was adjacent
    to a forest and a lagoon.
  137. And we envisioned children going outside
    for two and a half hours every morning,
  138. regardless of the weather.
  139. They would follow the mandated
    kindergarten curriculum
  140. outside in the morning
    and indoors in the afternoon.
  141. We hoped that nature
    would become their third teacher,
  142. that their mental
    and physical health would improve,
  143. that they would become
    stewards of the environment,
  144. and that they would learn
    the Aboriginal ways of knowing
  145. of the First Nations people.
  146. Meet Lisa and Erin, kindergarten teacher
    and early-childhood educator.
  147. Together, they took the idea
    of a Nature Kindergarten
  148. and transformed it into practice.
  149. Observing great teaching
    leaves me feeling charged up and hopeful.
  150. Spending a morning with Lisa,
    Erin, and their students
  151. always leaves me
    with this energized feeling.
  152. Each day, they go outside,
    and they create a learning environment
  153. that develops organically according to
    what the kids are interested in
  154. and the unknown wonders
    of the natural world.
  155. Through self-reflection, collaboration,
    and the occasional frustrated tear,
  156. they move their educational
    practice forward.
  157. To date, 65 children
    have completed our program.
  158. I am pleased to tell you
  159. that we have hardly used
    our risk-management plan.
  160. No child has ever been lost,
    endangered by wildlife,
  161. or seriously injured.
  162. Phew.
  163. (Laughter)
  164. Parents have overwhelmingly reported
  165. that the program has exceeded
    their expectations.
  166. And when researchers
    compared the Nature Kindergarten
  167. to a regular kindergarten class,
  168. they found significantly
    greater gains in four areas.
  169. Those four areas were locomotor skills,
    assertiveness, cooperation,
  170. and self-control.
  171. So let's go through them one by one.
  172. Locomotor skills.
  173. This log in the background
    of the photograph
  174. is about 20 feet long, six inches wide,
    and about five feet off the ground.
  175. Last year,
  176. it sat in the Royal Roads Forest
    and got noticed by our students.
  177. At first, they hung off of it,
  178. then they bummed along it,
  179. then they crawled along it,
  180. and eventually - you guessed it -
  181. they walked across
    this very long and skinny log.
  182. Fortunately,
  183. there were no concerned playground
    licensing officers anywhere close by.
  184. (Laughter)
  185. We need to empower young children
    to take age-appropriate risks
  186. on their own.
  187. We know that by doing so, they will lead
    healthier and safer lives as young adults.
  188. These logs provide otherwise clumsy
    and uncoordinated children
  189. with the ability to prove themselves
    to be expert climbers.
  190. Picture Nature Kindergarten children
    moving and playing
  191. for two and a half hours every morning,
  192. and you won't be surprised to learn
  193. that they improve their strength
    and agility to run, hop, and climb.
  194. Assertiveness.
  195. Every day last year,
  196. the class walked past
    a couple of anthills.
  197. The children became connected to the ants
  198. as they do to most living things
    in "their" forest."
  199. As the year went along,
  200. they noticed that people were throwing
    sticks and rocks on the anthills,
  201. causing them to get damaged.
  202. The children identified themselves
    as the ants' caretakers,
  203. and they decided to voice their opinions.
  204. "You can't step on the anthills!
    They're part of nature!"
  205. "We need to take care of them!"
  206. "Ants help pollinate flowers!"
  207. So they got together as a group,
    and they made signs and posters,
  208. and they taught others
    how to take care of the ants.
  209. Lucky ants -
  210. four- and five-year-olds
    taking care of them,
  211. not squashing them with their boots.
  212. Cooperation.
  213. The children soon learn
    that staying safe and happy in the forest
  214. means cooperating
    and caring for each other.
  215. Cooperation is a team effort.
  216. "Help! This log is too heavy for me!"
  217. Ava's friends rush over,
  218. and they help her carry
    the branch down the path.
  219. "You have to walk
    one, two, one, two, one, two!"
  220. Ava's more confident friend
    Eli offers up.
  221. And soon, their classmates
    start walking at a similar speed.
  222. "My arm is getting sore.
    When can we switch?"
  223. "You have to keep going!"
    yells Zoe from the back of the log.
  224. No adults - just kids organizing kids.
  225. Self-control.
  226. Using sticks, rocks, and dirt,
  227. the children in the Nature Kindergarten
    learn to focus themselves
  228. during listening times in the forest.
  229. Being outdoors in the wide, open spaces
  230. makes it easy to accept noises and actions
  231. that may be considered too loud
    or destructive indoors.
  232. So the Nature Kindergarten children
    realize that you can bark like a dog,
  233. or you can dig a hole
    next to your classmate,
  234. and no one will be annoyed
    with your unconventional ways.
  235. We did it.
  236. We transplanted a forest preschool
    to a school district in British Columbia.
  237. What we didn't anticipate is how
    the interest in this idea would grow.
  238. The Nature Kindergarten
    was at the front end of a wave of interest
  239. in outdoor programs for young children.
  240. There are now over 20 programs
    like this across the province,
  241. with several examples
    in different school districts.
  242. (Applause)
  243. You can't do this overnight,
  244. so be thoughtful in your process
  245. and generous in how you
    support your educators.
  246. Every generation is different,
    but nature is our constant.
  247. Being outside as a young child
    helped define who I am today,
  248. what I value, and how I spend my time.
  249. I hope that my own children,
    nieces and nephews,
  250. and the children who I educate
  251. will develop this same
    connection to nature.
  252. The future of our planet
    depends on raising children
  253. who have reasons to protect
    the world they live in.
  254. (Applause)