Hood View Adventist School, in Boring, Oregon, is offering a unique learning environment for young students through a “Forest Kindergarten” program. Rather than spending the school day in a traditional classroom, Lizzie Segoria teaches her eight kindergarten students in a forest classroom behind the school.
Forest schools are uncommon, not only in Seventh-day Adventist education but in the larger education systems across the United States. They began in Scandinavia in the 1950s and have gradually gained popularity throughout the world, especially in Germany, which has more than 1,500 “Waldkindergartens.”[i]
Circumstances fell into place for Hood View to offer this special program when they hired Lizzie Segoria as a teacher’s aide a few years ago. Since Segoria is a certified teacher not only through the Adventist denomination but also through the Forest School Teacher Institute, she recognized the possibilities the school property had with its 20 wooded acres. She began a limited forest school program where she took students outdoors for learning time for an hour a few times a week.
This school year, HVAS decided to add a full-time Forest Kindergarten as a pilot program. The four boys and four girls in the program spend most of their school day outside. The students dress appropriately according to the season, and they carry personal supplies in backpacks. Additional learning materials needed are brought out to the forest in a garden cart. For particularly inclement weather, the school has a covered shelter for the Forest Kindergarten to use, or indoor space in the library.
Kim Cornette, HVAS principal said, “Not only are [the students] learning their basic academics and learning them well, but they are also learning about wildlife, they are learning about how to be safe when climbing and building and playing in the forest.”
The students begin their school day with worship in the outdoor learning area marked by a circle of stumps. They learn a memory verse each week and a new praise song as well. They spend the rest of the morning on subjects like math and reading, and then the afternoon is for guided, exploratory learning in the forest.
If the weather is cold, Segoria has a fire going to keep the children warm — and of course, students are taught fire safety. Segoria not only uses paper assignments and books at times, but she also employs nature as an instructional tool. For example, she introduces a bird of the month to the kindergarteners, and then they learn to recognize the call of the bird, what it looks like, and also how to draw it.
According to the Forest Kindergartners’ parents, the students have thrived in the program. One parent shared that through the program her daughter’s “confidence and curiosity about all subjects have exploded.” While her daughter has progressed in her knowledge of reading, math and the Bible, it has not felt laborious. The parent remarks, “She has so much fun every day, she doesn’t even realize that she’s learning!”
Another parent, whose son had entered the program without a foundation for reading or writing, remarked on the growth of her son in those areas. “At the start of the school year our son could not read," said the mother. "He didn't know his sounds, and really struggled to write his name. Now he is able to accomplish all of these things and so much more. Being in nature has allowed him to grow and use all the gifts that God gave him because the world is truly now his classroom.”
Hood View’s faith-based forest school is well-situated to teach students not only the academics they need to excel but a connection to the Creator of nature — their ultimate Teacher.
Next year, HVAS will be able to enroll up to 10 students in its Forest Kindergarten.
[i] “Forest School History & Philosophy,” Forest School Foundation, 2020, accessed March 10, 2022.
[ii] “Outdoor Preschool Network: List of Outdoor, Forest, and Nature Preschools of Oregon.” Oregon Health and Outdoors Initiative, March 16, 2020, accessed March 10, 2022. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5ab3d9c4d274cbd8cef66106/t/5f205e7358b73f6345372919/1595956852346/Network+Map+Outdoor+Preschools+of+Oregon.docx.pdf
[iii] “Nature Based Preschools in the US.” Natural Start Alliance, 2020, accessed March 10, 2022. https://naturalstart.org/sites/default/files/staff/nature_preschools_2020_snapshot_final_0.pdf