Saratoga County

Waldorf School plans ‘forest kindergarten’

A local private school will launch an all-outdoors “forest kindergarten” this fall designed to bring
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A local private school will launch an all-outdoors “forest kindergarten” this fall designed to bring children closer to nature and make them healthier in the process.

The Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs is modeling its forest kindergarten — in which the children are outside most of the day, year-round — on successful, long-standing programs in Denmark and other European countries.

“There is a national movement to get children outside,” said Katherine Scharff, administrative manager of the Waldorf School.

She said children who are inside playing computer games and watching television most of the day develop what best-selling author Richard Louv calls a “nature deficit disorder.”

These indoor-bound children can’t identify such natural things as beetles, oak trees, acorns and common forest animals. They are also in need of exercise and fresh air, Louv argues in his book, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder.”

The Waldorf School is about to finalize a lease of forested land in Saratoga Springs where it will hold its forest kindergarten. School officials can’t identify the property yet, but it includes a “farmhouse on many acres,” Scharff said.

The official uniform for the new kindergarten, for children ages 3 through 6, will be colorful rain gear from head to toe, hats and mittens.

In their outdoor classroom, they will create mud pies, play “freeze tag” and collect pine cones and pebbles. There will also be instruction based on the forest and nature.

“We have closely studied similar programs in Denmark and elsewhere and look forward to providing the best developmental and cognitive environment for young people,” Scharff said in a statement.

The school is planning two classes of between 15 and 20 students each. The day will start at 8:30 a.m. and end at 1 p.m. with an “aftercare” option for children until 5:30 p.m. The cost per child will be $6,900 and includes lunch and snacks.

“A home-like, warm, peaceful indoor space typical of regular Waldorf classrooms will be used for daily rest periods and times of prohibitively inclement weather,” Scharff said.

A typical forest kindergarten day will include circle games, arts and crafts, story time, rest and meal preparation in addition to regular morning nature walks or outdoor work projects such as trail maintenance and gardening, according to a description of the new program.

In the winter, the students will learn to use snow shoes and still spend as much time outdoors as possible.

Scharff said Waldorf school educators are creating the forest kindergarten because of the growing national concern that “children are inside too much” and are not getting enough stimulation in nature.

In a sense, the beautiful natural world of green grass and mud puddles is being taken away from children by technology and television, she said.

The local Waldorf School is based on the hands-on teachings of Rudolf Steiner, who created his system of education in 1919. The school currently offers educational programs for children from age two to 12th grade. It operates an Early Childhood Center on Lake Avenue, a grades one through eight elementary school on York Avenue and a grades nine through 12 high school on Regent Street.

Schraff said the current Waldorf traditional kindergarten for children 41⁄2 to 6 will continue. The school also has a preschool program for ages 2 through 4 at its Early Childhood Center.

For more information on the new kindergarten program or any of the other Waldorf programs, contact the admissions office at 587-2224 or e-mail [email protected] The school Web site is www.waldorfsaratoga.org.

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