My oldest and youngest balancing on a fallen log in Tilden Park, Berkeley, CA

Our forest school journey began last year, in the fall of 2017.  My oldest son was in 4th grade at a new school and having a difficult time.   First he shared that there had been an announcement in the beginning of the school year regarding the teacher’s bathroom policy.  The children were not allowed to use the bathroom during class time, if they did they would have detention.  This policy caused anxiety for my son, not so much for himself but for his classmates.  “What if my friend has to use the bathroom?” he asked me.  Now I am a teacher too, so I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt, perhaps she has had problems in the past regarding bathroom use.   My son had been to three other public schools in the past, due to our family’s moves.   The word detention had not yet entered his vocabulary.   It was clear that this school was in a different league than any he attended before.  I made time to meet with the teacher to clarify this policy.  “Oh, I’m sorry” she said, “If he is worried about it, I will exempt him from the policy”.  I talked with my son and he was relieved, but only slightly.   I was still feeling shocked by the lack of respect.  I was really disturbed by the idea of a teacher taking punitive measures for children fulfilling their basic bodily functions.


My son as a junior counselor during our summer nature camp in Golden Gate Park

I started talking to my colleagues at work, to my middle son’s preschool teachers, to our neighbors.  No one I talked to felt that this was a good way to establish a classroom culture of respect and learning.  I started reading books on education to get more insight on current issues in education.  I read the book How Children Succeed by Paul Tough, it was a great read and relevant to my son’s very diverse school population.  I even recommended it to his teacher.  Soon after this, my son came home telling us how the teacher had taken away recess from the entire class due to several children’s excessive talking.  This was really hard for my son and caused a lot of anger.  Recess was only 10 minutes long and he worked really hard to pay attention and stay seated all morning inside the classroom.  Without this break, he would come home and burst into angry tears at the slightest provocation.   We had a parent teacher conference and brought up this issue, we talked about perhaps using a reward system instead of punishments to motive the class.  The teachers were pleasant, had good things to say about our son and seemed to be willing to try a new method of classroom management.  And then it happened again, and again.  Needless to say it was a rough school year for our family.  In January, I started the months long process of applying to transfer him out of the district.  And I started thinking about school options for my nearly five year old son.

Then along came an email from my son’s amazing play based emergent curriculum preschool.  There would be a parent book club and the book to read was Barefoot and Balanced by Angela J. Hanscom.  I wasn’t sure I’d have time for the book club meeting, but the book sounded good.  Actually, I thought as a preschool teacher that I would already know most of what the book would have to say.  I bought it and started reading anyway.  It turns out that I learned so much and had no idea how important physical movement is for a child’s brain!

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Where did that insect go?

Outdoor time in the natural environment provides such great opportunities for a child to develop so many aspects of their development all at once.  I wanted to give this experience to my younger children, so I started looking at forest kindergartens.  I found several in the bay area, however they were both were very expensive and had very limited hours.  Perhaps I could open my own forest school!  I already had many years of teaching experience with young children and I had already successfully started and run a small business with my family childcare and preschool.  The wheels were turning in my mind, how could I make this work for our family?