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Lead from the Start: a breath of fresh air for early childhood

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

a breath of fresh air for early childhood

There are no letters on the walls. There are no walls for that matter. They take the kids outside ... all day. In a global economy can you believe that some German families are giving up high stakes early childhood testing for climbing trees and playing games outside with friends?
photos by Mike Esterl
The Waldkindergärten movement highlighted in the Wall Street Journal is another in a long line of foreign forms of early learning that have influenced American schooling to greater or lesser degrees. They include Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio, and now the throw back to the first Kindergartens.

When I first learned about Friedrich Froebel's "child gardens" or kindergartens I was drawn to the romanticism. Students were expected to use "toys" made from entirely natural materials. The one that sticks out in my mind was a wooden "toy" that included wooden cylinders that children stacked and placed back in to a wooden container.

Now the Waldkindergärten has jumped the pond and sprouted in Portland Oregon. Also referred to as Forest Schools the approach has a certain appeal to those seeking to connect kids with nature instead of USB plugs.

It really shouldn't surprise us that there are small rebellions. When I talk about the skills necessary for a global economy I am definitely not talking about the same skills that some wonks are describing but, then again I am talking about the skills that David Brooks describes in his Op-Ed piece,"Psst Human Capital." Brooks descriptions of human capital are exactly the types of skills that would be developed in a Waldkindergärten classroom.
He wrote:
There's cultural capital: the habits, assumptions, emotional dispositions and linguistic capacities we unconsciously pick up from families, neighbors and ethnic groups - usually by age 3.
There's social capital: the knowledge of how to behave in groups and within institutions.
There's moral capital: the ability to be trustworthy.
There's cognitive capital. This can mean pure, inherited brainpower. But important cognitive skills are not measured by IQ tests and are not fixed.
Then there's aspirational capital: the fire-in-the-belly ambition to achieve.

It might be easy to relate the first three forms of human capital to an outdoor play-based Kindergarten but the most important might be the cognitive capital and the aspirational capital. These skills would be fostered in a Waldkindergärten because in these "schools" students have to make their own learning. When faced with a problem they have to solve it and if they want to have fun, they have to figure out a way to make it. In a Waldkindergärten the only resources teachers and students have are nature and their own human capital. I wonder what some teachers would do without a chalkboard? I wonder what some kids would do without computers or legos to play with? As I have said before, 21 CL does not mean being able to use a mouse or surf the net. It means connecting, relating, and creating with other human beings through digital tools.

Besides, "The computer arrives early enough," adds Norbert Huppertz, a specialist in child development at the Freiburg University of Education and a Waldkindergärten booster in Germany.

Thanks to Luyen Chou of Need to Know and the social network for leaving a link to Brook's piece on one of posts on Schoolnet.


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