Cleveland Rotary Club

A new twist in education: A school in the woods

Posted 8/25/19

Imagine attending a kindergarten where the great outdoors is the classroom and lessons include splashing through creeks and running through fields.While most of us may recall our kindergarten …

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Cleveland Rotary Club

A new twist in education: A school in the woods


Imagine attending a kindergarten where the great outdoors is the classroom and lessons include splashing through creeks and running through fields.

While most of us may recall our kindergarten experiences as sitting inside the classrooms  of brick and mortar buildings, local youngsters now have the opportunity to have nature as their classroom.

Bonnie Cretton, founder and director of the Woodsong Forest School in McDonald recently spoke during a Rotary Club of Cleveland luncheon held at the Museum Center.

The school is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. 

While an outdoor classroom may seem modern, Cretton said the concept was developed in Germany.

According to Cretton, Friedrich Frobel, a German educator, opened the world's first kindergarten more than 150 years ago. 

“Kindergarten translated from German means ‘children’s gardens,’” Cretton said.

According to the school's website, Forbel “believed that young children should spend their time playing in nature and less emphasis should be placed on learning letters and numbers. Today, across Europe, thousands of these outdoor ‘forest kindergartens’ have been established. Children spend their entire class time exploring and learning outdoors year-round.”

WFS has carried on that belief through activities conducted at its campus located at Johnston Woods on Brymer Creek Road.

“We provide a play-based learning experience in all weather, all the time,” Cretton said.

As for weather conditions, Cretton said it’s all part of the experience.

“There is no bad weather, just bad clothing,” she said, adding that the children thrive in all conditions.

Activities include play-based learning where children are free to explore nature, engage with nature any learning about the natural world and its inhabitants such as frogs or flowers.

During their treks through the woods, the children have the opportunity to ask questions and learn about the world around them.

In addition, their immersion into nature helps children to learn to “build a compassionate world,” Cretton said.

In addition to learning about nature, the outdoor lessons enable children to build their motor skills, which helps them become stronger and more agile, something that cannot be achieved sitting in a classroom. 

“As the children interact with the subject of interest, the teacher steps into the learning opportunity to impart naturalist knowledge, integrate a science lesson, or seize the moment to infuse mathematics or literacy learning,” Cretton said.

The school offers half-day as well as full-day kindergartens. The half-day sessions operate from 9 a.m. to noon, with the full-day sessions extending from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Both sessions are available two to three days a week, with full-day sessions offering a five-day program.

There are also homeschool programs for students ages 7 to 12.

According to the school’s website, “A study carried out by the National Wildlife Federation [shows] students who spend regular time in unstructured outdoor play are more creative, better problem solvers and better able to concentrate.” 

The study also found that educational settings in the natural environment have “a positive impact on student focus and learning by improving attentiveness, future test scores and performance.”

“It helps their sensory development and gives them a sense of belonging and stewardship,” Cretton said.

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