As a part of my morning walks I usually explore the woods right around our house. I’ve gotten to know them well enough that there are hardly any paths running through that are new to me. This is good news because it means that I hardly ever get caught running late and needing to run home anymore. There’s always a short cut in close proximity.
But recently I heard from an acquaintance that there is more to explore on other side of town so this week I started heading in that direction.
One day I discovered a place that looked like it might have belonged to Peter Pan and his band of lost boys. A ways after the entrance to the woods, I noticed feathers and wood strung across the path like a welcome garland. There were painted signs every so often, some with encouragements to stop and do a few exercises. Next I came upon a kitchen made entirely of items from the woods, and a cute little circle of wood stumps. Through the trees I noticed a clearing with some children and adults and then I realized, Oh this is a Wald Kindergarten! Not wanting to intrude, I turned down another path. But the whole area around it was kind of magical, the paths were thin, small, perfect for tiny children.
Wald Kindergarten translates to Forest Preschool. Most children aged 3-6 attend pre-school in Germany as a social and cognitive preparation for more formal school. In Wald Kindergarten they do all that almost exclusively outdoors. They dress in warm and water proof layers and stay outside for meals and lessons and play in the woods except for cases of very severe weather when they use a structure built nearby as a shelter.
On another morning walking in the vicinity I noticed parents pulling up at the edge of some farmer’s fields not too far from the woods and realized that must be the drop-off. Because Wald Kindergarten takes place mostly outdoors, the risk of transmitting Corona among other sickness is significantly lower. So they were able to re-open before all the other normal preschools in the area.
Although I’ve known about the concept of Wald Kindergarten for a good two or three years I couldn’t help but be enchanted by the whole thing.
Today, being Saturday, I went back today to get a closer look when I knew it would be empty. I walked further in this time, all the way into the clearing. What a special place, I thought. A child’s woodland dream. In the clearing, I came upon a small, red painted house. Around it were a tiny table or two and various bird’s houses and bird feeders with children’s names painted on them. As I looked around the clearing I realized that the red house is the very house I see from the window that faces my writing desk.
Daily I look out across the main road and over the houses to a hill. A forest stands at the top of the hill or at least a line of trees that looks like a forest. I’ve often wondered about the small red building in the clearing and suddenly there I was standing right in front of it. I looked across the clearing to try to see own my window. Wishing I could be in two places at once, I imagined myself looking through the window, straining to see myself over in the clearing. I felt a little like I was intruding in spite of the fact that no one was there, so I went on my way pretty quickly.
What amazes me is that aside from the little red house, there are no doors or barriers on the Wald Kindergarten. And yet it’s left alone, seemingly appreciated and respected. There are at least two Wald Kindergartens in our area that I’m familiar with although my knowledge is limited, I’ve never heard of anyone vandalizing them or using them inappropriately.
What also surprises me is that while the little red house appears high up and very far away from my window, the walk was less than 20 minutes and it hardly felt like hiking up a mountain.
A number of analogies could be made about my accidental visit to the Forest Kindergarten but here is what I took away: There are unconventional ways to do conventional things. They are either being done unbeknownst to us or they are waiting to be discovered and tried by us. The pursuit and execution of those things that are new or unique can inspire awe and respect and these ideas and solutions aren’t as far away or as difficult to arrive at as they first seem.