This is my daughter’s fifth year of school. Two years of preschool, one year of kindergarten, one year of first grade, and we’re now at the tail end of our year of second grade. While, if I’m honest, none of these years have been stellar (though first grade does stand out as a particularly good year – we were blessed with a particularly good teacher), second grade has been, as a friend put it, a wash.
We were not blessed with a particularly good teacher this year and between that, distressingly lofty standards, and having a brain that is inclined toward the visual and big picture, my daughter’s school year has been nothing short of crap. So much so that we looked into homeschooling (unworkable, for a variety of reasons), private schools (limited options and frighteningly expensive), and even a charter school that would have send us 45 minutes south every day, if she were lucky enough to have her name pulled during the lottery (she was not).
With just about all of the alternatives to our current situation investigated and ruled out, it’s time for us to settle in for the last couple of months of school (fingers crossed they go quickly), and look to the summer. I’ve been thinking about how to make this summer be not only relaxing and fun, but also as a way to help my daughter detox from such a long and arduous school year. Also, I have a three-year-old son who I’m choosing to not send to preschool next year, my thought being he’s going to get quite enough when he hits kindergarten. So, while I don’t want him to be inundated with academics and “kindergarten readiness”, there are some basic literacy and numeracy skills I want to start introducing him to (i.e. letters, numbers, colors, and shapes).
As I’ve been considering all this and coming up against summer vacation, I’ve also been hearing and reading and watching a lot about forest pre-k and kindergarten programs. From reading How to Raise a Wild Child by Scott Sampson last spring, all the way to watching Project Wild Thing with my husband this week, this concept of connecting children with nature and it’s myriad of emotional and educational benefits has been rattling around in my head for some time, and it’s brought me to this: forest school.
There isn’t a forest school nearby that I can send my kids to, we can’t afford camp all summer long, and I’m the type of person who likes a project. So, we’re going to have our own forest school at home, Mama’s Forest School. It will be a chance for my creative and physical daughter to try new things out and practice previously learned concepts on her own terms and in a nontoxic environment. It’ll give my busy little boy a chance to discover and explore and learn in the comfort of our own land. And it gives me a chance to meet two goals of my own – create a largely screen free household (we’ve had some success previously, but it became difficult to maintain once I started working full time again) and to spend more time outside myself.
We are extremely lucky in that we live in a small house on a pretty large swath of land (about seven acres). Most of it is wooded and we have few neighbors. During the summer our property comes alive with wildlife that enchants my children (and me) – nearly tame chipmunks, frogs and toads, butterflies, and all sorts of birds and even bats. We have creeks running down either side of our property and a huge fire pit that some weeks we use nightly. What’s more, we have a pop-up camper that stays up pretty much the entire summer – the perfect spot to run to if rain decides to hit or if the three year old needs a nap (though the hammock is good for that one, too). All in all, we have a pretty great set up for a forest school of our own.
I’m not sure just yet what this will exactly look like, but I’ll be doing much of that planning here, and when summer vacation does finally arrive (June 16!), I’ll share much of what the kids, my husband, and I get up to as we start our first summer of Mama’s Forest School.