Forest Kindergarden

All outdoors,


all the time

Germany‘s ‘forest kindergartens’ grow in popularity with families who want their children to have a direct link with nature.

By Isabelle de Pommereau |


 Special to The Christian Science Monitor

FRANKFURTAll is quiet in the woods outside Frankfurt on this chilly spring morning until a group of 3- to 6-year-olds appears over the crest of a hill. Dressed in rain gear with small backpacks and rolled trail mats, they leap over fallen trees and narrow streams and puddles while two caretakers haul a small cart of tools and supplies.

Outside the city, the Forest Mice from St. Thomas Kindergarten are on their way to school, al fresco. This is one of roughly 300 such “forest kindergartens” in Germany today – a trend that is growing quickly. In an age when concerns about obesity, poor concentration, and aggressive behavior run high, many German parents are eschewing computer screens and plastic toys in favor of outdoor education.

While most kindergartners play in heated classrooms and courtyards with slides and swings, the Forest Mice romp in the open air every day of the school year, rain or shine (there is a trailer for extreme weather conditions).

“Parents are more and more aware that consumerism and high technology do not necessarily provide advantages,” says Marie Louise Sander, president of the National Association of Forest Kindergartens in Flensburg, home to the first German forest kindergarten, which started in 1993.

“Parents feel instinctively that their children need … more than a perfect playroom. They need to develop outside the artificially created environment of doll houses and drawing tables,” she says.

Unlike many European countries such as France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, Germany has no national standards for kindergarten, which includes children ages 3 to 7. Here, ages are mixed, so that 3-year-olds and 6-year-olds play together.

German kindergarten isn’t mandatory – children start school at age 7 – but, by law, every child is entitled to a slot regardless of income. Kindergartens are public or private initiatives subsidized by municipal and regional governments. Most children participate.

For St. Thomas students, kindergarten starts at the subway station in Frankfurt at 8:15 a.m. The children meet for a 20-minute ride to the forest, where they will spend the next four hours. (Caretakers are reachable via mobile phones.)

Children hike from the subway to their breakfast area, asking questions along the way. The rules, which include staying within earshot, not picking flowers, and not touching animals, are strictly enforced.

“Look, here’s a beetle!” exclaims caretaker Natacha Lautenschläger. She stops abruptly, crawls on the ground, and swiftly pulls out a guidebook as a herd of curious kindergartners gathers around her.

Breakfast, preceded by sharing time, takes place in a clearing, on wooden benches the children have built themselves. Melina has water duty, and holds a bottle so her classmates can wash up. The weather turns cold and Paul, the group’s smallest “mouse” at age 3, starts screaming. “Shhh!” says Ute Constant, another caretaker. “You’re scaring the little caterpillars!”

Playtime comes next, and children scatter into several groups. The emphasis is on imagination and communication, using nature’s supplies for props. Tobias is a soldier; Charlotte a knight. Anne Katherine takes the role of the knight’s horse. Each corner of the clearing becomes a learning platform.

“A playground doesn’t change,” says Ms. Lautenschläger. “A slide remains a slide. But nature evolves and lives. When it rains, there’s a small brook to run over; when it snows they can slide. They experience the year’s cycles. They can touch and comprehend nature.”

Forest kindergartens’ greatest contribution is that they instill in kids “an unlimited range of questioning possibilities,” says Gerd Schäfer, an expert on preschool education at the University of Cologne. “In an indoor classroom … the questions kids ask are often those that adults want them to ask, those that link the things in their classrooms.” In the woods, he adds, “the likelihood of asking ‘What is this?’ and ‘Where does this come from?’ becomes much greater.”

Generations ago, children experienced the environment firsthand. Today, they are often driven from one event to the next – from what Roland Gorges, professor of early education at the University of Darmstadt, calls “islands.” The links between the islands have become lost in the process. Forest kindergartens give kids the chance to explore with all their senses.

Mr. Gorges says this includes playing in a brook, letting water run down your palms, or floating paper boats on it; smelling flowers; climbing trees.

Forest kindergartens first appeared in Denmark in the 1950s when a Danish mother began taking her friends’ children, along with her own, to the woods every day. In the 1990s, Petra Jaegger, a young kindergarten teacher in northern Germany, sought an alternative kindergarten concept. She traveled to Denmark and what she saw convinced her. “A forest kindergarten,” Ms. Jaegger says, “means giving kids the chance to remain a child.”

Today, Forest Mice are scurrying about in Austria and Japan as well.

After 10 years of experience with forest kindergartens, Germany is producing its first studies. Among the results: The Forest Mice have fewer difficulties sitting still and concentrating than their classroom counterparts. They are less aggressive and report fewer illnesses than other children.

“Parents notice that their children simply feel good,” Gorges says. “There’s a balance between spirit and body; they have a special sensitivity to nature.”

Martina von Winter says that the absence of manufactured toys has fostered her daughter Friederike’s imagination and made her a well-rounded child. Sabina Koliqi says the forest kindergarten has changed her daughter Fiona. “She’s a balanced person now. There are no goals to fulfill. She can find her inner peace and just be herself.”

Concerns that children who spend much of their day in the woods might lack social skills haven’t come to pass. “It’s demanding,” says Marie Sander. “Forest kindergarten means being able to do things that aren’t always comfortable.”

The lack of mandatory curriculums at the kindergarten level, coupled with a long tradition of encouraging alternative educational concepts, such as the Montessori or Waldorf school philosophies, and Germany’s special romantic relationship with the woods, help explain the success of forest kindergartens, says Professor Schäfer. He doubts, however, that forest kindergartens will become mainstream in Germany. Sending every child to the woods is a nice – but elitist – idea, he says. “One can’t live only in the woods.”

But the influence of the forest-kindergarten movement is being felt on other kindergartens across the country. Preschools are borrowing the concept, introducing “forest days” or “forest weeks” into their curriculums.

Whatever school experiences the Forest Mice have in the future, it’s likely they will continue to have a unique attachment to the outdoors.



Pregnant Belly Dancing

Trashing Wall-E

I really liked this movie, but until reading this hadn’t thought of the hypocritical practices Disney has taken with the merchandise/commercialism of this movie.

Trashing Wall-E
By Josh Golin

Wall-E, Disney’s smash hit about the last remaining trash-compacting robot on an abandoned and pollution-saturated Earth, has inspired a lot of adult conversations for a kids’ movie. Progressives love its prescient ecological message and its critique of expanding corporate influence. Some conservatives decry its “fear mongering” and “leftist propaganda”. Others see the film as a cautionary tale about big government run amok.

If Wall-E were only a movie, I’d put myself squarely in the first camp. As an anti-commercialism activist, I cheered Wall-E‘s explicit linking of corporate marketing, consumption, and environmental degradation. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the film is both visually stunning and genuinely moving. Or that, as a fan of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, I was enthralled by the film’s audaciously silent opening sequence.

But Wall-E isn’t merely a film. Like nearly all media produced for kids these days, it’s also a brand. There are dozens of Wall-E action figures and electronic toys, as well as video games for eight different systems. There are Wall-E backpacks, lunch bags, clothing, sheets, baking tins, dinnerware, plastic cups, invitations, thank-you notes, piñatas, and tattoos. There are already 28 Wall-E books. Adults can debate the movie’s meaning all they want, but for kids the takeaway message of the entire Wall-E experience is buy, buy, buy.

It’s incredibly hypocritical for Disney to simultaneously profit from a film about a world overrun by garbage and from the toys and merchandise that will fill tomorrow’s trash. It’s sad to think of those Wall-E action figures (Collect them all!) stuck in landfills long after the film has left theaters, with any associated positive messages forgotten. It’s hard not to envision a moment in the future where Wall-E stumbles into small mountains of his own branded merchandise.

Those who celebrate Wall-E’s green message can only do so by turning a blind eye to the impact of the Wall-E brand in the real world. That means not only overlooking all that Wall-E stuff, but that one of the film’s corporate partners is BP, one of the world’s largest oil companies. Visitors to the Wall-E website (another part of the Wall-E experience that resides outside the theater) can click through to BP’s special website for kids, where they transfer their warm feelings about the movie and any messages they’ve internalized about saving the earth to BP.

As adults, we may be able to separate media texts from their attendant commercialism. But that’s not how kids experience media programs and characters. In children’s increasingly commercialized and media-saturated worlds, Shrek is Shrek—whether he’s on-screen charmingly teaching lessons about inner beauty or on a cereal box hawking sugar and calories. Marketers understand this; that is why they are so eager to use popular characters to sell kids on almost anything. Ads for kids’ films and their licensed products run continually on children’s television, reinforcing each other and promoting the idea that the way to express love for a character is to own it in as many forms as possible.

That is a particularly frightening idea. The commercial pressures on kids continue to increase. If we are to have any hope of reversing the consumer-driven destruction of our planet, we need to teach young children—the targets of all the Wall-E merchandise marketing—that play and love do not equal consumption.


Josh Golin is the Associate Director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood at the Judge Baker Children’s Center in Boston.

Rohan is here!

Born at 3:29pm on September 27. Weighing in at 2.8kg or 6lbs 5ounces.

Women need to vote, lets remember our history.

Subject: Role models

It is American based, but still applies here in Canada.

Lest we forget this too….



This is the story of our Grandmothers and Great-grandmothers; they lived only 90 years ago.

Remember, it was not until 1920

That women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.

The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed
Nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking
For the vote.

And by the end of the night, they were barely alive.
Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden’s blessing
Went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of
‘obstructing sidewalk traffic.’

(Lucy Burns)
They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above
Her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping
For air.

(Dora Lewis)
They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her
Head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate,
Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack.
Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging,
Beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.

Thus unfolded the ‘Night of Terror’ on Nov. 15, 1917,
When the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his
Guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because
They dared to picket Woodrow Wilson’s White House for the right
To vote.
For weeks, the women’s only water came from an open pail. Their
Food–all of it colorless slop–was infested with worms.

(Alice Paul)
When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks
Until word was smuggled out to the press.

So, refresh my memory. Some women won’t vote this year because-
-why, exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work?
Our vote doesn’t matter? It’s raining?

Last week, I went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO’s new
Movie ‘Iron Jawed Angels.’ It is a graphic depiction of the battle
These women waged so that I could pull the curtain at the polling
Booth and have my say. I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder.

All these years later, voter registration is still my passion. But the
Actual act of voting had become less personal for me, more rote.
Frankly, voting often felt more like an obligation than a privilege.
Sometimes it was inconvenient.

My friend Wendy, who is my age and studied women’s history,
Saw the HBO movie, too. When she stopped by my desk to talk
About it, she looked angry. She was–with herself. ‘One thought
Kept coming back to me as I watched that movie,’ she said.
‘What would those women think of the way I use, or don’t use,
My right to vote? All of us take it for granted now, not just
Younger women, but those of us who did seek to learn.’ The
Right to vote, she said, had become valuable to her ‘all over again.’

HBO released the movie on video and DVD . I wish all history,
Social studies and government teachers would include the movie in
Their curriculum I want it shown on Bunco night, too, and anywhere
Else women gather. I realize this isn’t our usual idea of socializing,
But we are not voting in the numbers that we should be, and I think
A little shock therapy is in order.

It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn’t make her crazy.

The doctor admonished the men: ‘Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.’

Please, if you are so inclined, pass this on to all the women you know.

We need to get out and vote and use this right that was fought so
Hard for by these very courageous women. Whether you vote democratic, republican or independent party – remember to vote.

History is being made.

10 weeks

So I'm actually 6.5 weeks in this pic, but I still look quite the same size.

So I

 I’m actually 6.5 weeks in this picture, but I still look pretty much the same size.

Almost 2 inches long! Small plum size.

Keep in mind this isn't MY baby.

Keep in mind this isn

 Keep in mind, this isn’t MY actual baby.

How long will it take for the minimum to be 2 years?

Safer car seats face rear to age 2: study

Studies show fewer injuries to children in crashes than in forward-facing seats.

By Jennifer L. Boen

Research published in this month’s Injury Prevention journal could spur the federal government to scrap its recommendation that children older than 1 can ride in a forward-facing car seat.

Between 1988 and 2003, children 12 to 23 months old were five times more likely to be seriously injured when riding in forward-facing car seats than in rear-facing seats, according to data cited in the study.

Dr. Marilyn Bull at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis co-authored the article. She is medical director and founder of the Automotive Safety Program and Kohl’s Center for Safe Transportation of Children, both at Riley.

“It is really a dramatic difference for the 1- to 2-year-olds,” Bull said.

In frontal crashes, the differences in injuries in rear-facing vs. forward-facing car seats were not statistically significant. But researchers noted that overall statistics for infants and 1-year-olds involved in any type of crash show rear-facing seats were 93 percent effective compared with 78 percent for forward-facing.

“The rear-facing seat is more protective, we think, because the forces are distributed over the entire back,” Bull said. “With forward-facing, the harness straps assume the force over the smallest part of the body.”

She likened it to a strong finger-push to the forehead compared to an entire hand. “There’s a lot more force in a localized place. In the rear-facing seat the force is distributed over the head and the entire body. We think it also provides a kind of cocooning effect,” Bull said.

Children in rear-facing seats did not sustain spine injuries, Bull said. There were some head injuries, but not to the extent found in forward-facing infants and toddlers.

“Spine injuries definitely occur in the forward-facing seats,” she said. Children in rear-facing seats are more likely to sustain injuries to their extremities, which Bull said are more reparable and usually less likely to have lifelong consequences.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s current guidelines dictate that a child should be 1 year old and weigh at least 20 pounds before using a forward-facing car seat. No state statute requires rear-facing seats for a particular age-group or minimum weight.

The American Academy of Pediatrics in 1996 found that children should remain in rear-facing seats past age 1. But the authors said, “This message is somewhat overshadowed by the more highly publicized 12 months- and 20-pounds guideline.”

Bull hopes the data will be the catalyst for parents to use the convertible-type seat in the rear-facing position until their children are at least 2, and that pediatricians will also discuss the benefits of rear-facing seats with parents.

The findings have significant implications for car-seat and vehicle manufacturers. Bull said most children of average height and weight can comfortably remain rear-facing up to age 2 in a convertible-type seat. But if further data shows benefits for children to sit rear-facing past age 2, cars would have to be built differently.

“It would take a whole change in the federal motor vehicle safety standard process,” Bull said — something that takes years to accomplish.

Larger seats are available in Europe. In Sweden, for example, children must remain in rear-facing seats until age 4, but Bull said cars are designed so seats sit in a pod-like place, with more leg room.

Keeping children rear-facing longer can bring additional frustration to parents who cannot see whether their child’s pacifier has fallen out or if the child is asleep. Children, too, like to see their parents and get a straight-ahead view of the scenery. Bull cautions against putting mirrors on the back seat, which can become projectiles during an accident and hurt a child.

“We’d certainly talk about things like soft toys, soft books, more amusing things for the child,” she said. “It is very possible that car manufacturers might figure out how to use those video (screens) so kids could see them.”

In Indiana, 85 percent of infants under 1 are riding in rear-facing seats, and Bull would like that number to be 100 percent.

“Armed with the information we now have, it is imperative for parents to keep their children rear-facing in car seats longer,” she said.

As a 1930’s wife – I’m rated ‘POOR’

I only rated ’36’, ah well.

Tired (yawn)

I’d forgotten how tired you become when your pregnant.

The way we get Cayden to sleep is we lay next to him in his dbl bed with lights out and he’s usually asleep in 15 minutes. Usually I’m rolling out of the bed in hardly any time at all. But lately I can’t seem to last 5 minutes without falling asleep. Now the funny thing is I also have mild insomnia, so I wake up at 12:30 (usually on the dot) and have to get up because I’m so wide awake. Tyson is often still up, so I’ll pee and go into the living room, have a snack, watch a couple minutes of whatever Weeds episode he’s on and I’m asleep again on the couch within 5 minutes.

Luckly Cayden has been a super sleeper lately. He’s been sleeping from 9-5:30 or 6, which is crazy. I remember when he was waking every 2 hours and I used to think this would never happen. And Tyson being able to get him down at night has been incredible. Sure I can’t be home when this happens, but its a start 🙂

I’m 9 weeks pregnant tomorrow. This pregnancy is happening REALLY fast and REALLY slow all at the same time, very wierd!

It’s the size of a medium green olive.