What happens when the children get cold?
The common response to that question within the forest school community is, ‘There is no bad weather, only bad clothing”. Many Forest Kindergartens in Europe exist in places that get very cold and have lots of snow. When children are outfitted properly with appropriate silk/wool long underwear and layers of quality outer gear their bodies generate more than enough heat. We are going to be partnering with several outfitters to receive sponsorships so children can be warmly dressed with less expense to the family.
Do you teach letters and numbers?
“Emergent curriculum” and “interest led” are terms that essentially mean the school day flows based on what the children express an interest in. There are no formal lesson plans or academic benchmarks we insist children reach. However, it is likely that a day in the forest could include spontaneous counting of rocks, drawing of names in the dirt, etc. This model strongly believes that children begin exploring what they are ready for and in this spirit we will support and honor their natural curiosity.
Why do you only offer a half-day program?
In the State of Washington, a preschool needs to be licensed before it can operate more than fours hours per day. Yet, the state does not currently have a licensing framework for Forest Schools. So we are limited to a half-day program. However, in 2017, as part of an alliance with other nature-based schools, the Orcas Island Forest School helped pass the first legislation in the country that creates a three-year pilot program (2018 – 2020) through the Department of Early Learning that is working towards creating an alternative licensing framework that will allow us to provide a full-day program.
How do you determine the cost of tuition?
In addition to providing a nurturing environment for our students, one of our goals is to ensure that our teaching staff is nurtured as well with a livable wage. Additionally, given the low overhead of the Forest School model (nature is our building!) we strive towards keeping non-personnel costs to a minimum.
If, through the pilot program noted above, we are able to become fully licensed, we intend to work with state and federal programs (e.g. ECEAP and Working Connections) that are designed to increase access to preschool. Ideally, we would love to see the Orcas Island Forest School become the first publicly funded Forest School in the United States, as they are in Germany and other European countries. Until then, we are committed to raising as much scholarship money as necessary so that no family is turned away for lack of funds.
How do you intend to make the program more inclusive?
In addition to what we’ve noted in the above sections, we are working to translate our materials into Spanish and have an interpreter available for Spanish speaking families who are interested in our program. We also hope to collaborate with the public school’s special services programs so as to ensure that students with special needs can access our program.