Early Ecology

"Children are born with a sense of wonder and an affinity for Nature.  Properly cultivated, these values can mature into ecological literacy, and eventually into sustainable patterns of living."

-Zenobia Barlow

"Through deep nature connection children joyfully learn about the cycles of nature, of life and death, food and waste and through this they learn about their own ecological system: self, family, community, beliefs, values and their place on this earth."  

-Joanna Ferraro

What is a Forest School?

A Forest School is an educational approach that gives learners regular opportunities to develop confidence, self-esteem and self-regulation through hands-on learning experiences in natural outdoor environments. Though most common in Europe there are Forest Schools all over the world that share these guiding principles.

·  We value child-led learning, constantly adapting the curriculum to the interests of the children and the opportunities presented in the moment.

·  We value play as fundamental to healthy development and learning. Each day has time for unstructured free play.

·  We value giving learners the opportunity to take supported risks appropriate to the environment and to their growing edge.

·  Forest Schools aim to promote the holistic development of all those involved, fostering resilient, confident and creative learners.

(Adapted from the Forest School Association website)

What do you do when it rains?

Playing in the rain is a joy and full of unique learning experiences. In order for children to be able to fully engage in wet weather, appropriate gear is important. 

On rainy days children come to school in rain boots, rain pants and a rain jacket. Teachers bring tarps, blankets, and warm tea and explore from under the protection of the tree canopy or other shelter. In case of severe weather we use a variety of nature and community centers as our meeting place. Any change in location is communicated to parents ahead of time.

Why do you move locations during the year?

Many California Forest Schools alternate locations through the seasons and our practice has been to move to a warmer, sunnier area as the weather cools down. Here are some of the reasons behind our movement: 

  1. Safety. The first reason for the change is safety. Winter weather that is generally wetter and windier makes us extra cautious of falling trees and tree limbs. In tour winter location, the trees nearby are mostly oak, acacia and cedar, much lower growing trees than the majestic redwoods and pines.

  2. Warmth. Although there are Forest Schools all over the world that meet in snow and freezing conditions, we would like to set our students up for as much comfort as possible. Although definitely more beautiful to the eye, our Fall location is much colder because of the shade and canyon.

  3. Impact on the land. The last factor that has strongly influenced our decision to temporarily change locations is the impact of so many little hands and feet on the land. Some of our meeting areas have a creek running through them, which is fabulous, but it is also a delicate ecosystem. The creek banks are prone to erosion especially during the rainy season. We feel that giving our beloved land a rest is beneficial for the land, and thereby our school's, continued flourishing.

How do you address kindergarten readiness?

Children are naturally engaged in learning all the time. We offer a rich environment with teachers who are carefully observing and supporting each learner. Every element of education is present in the Forest School experience it just often looks different to those who are accustomed to seeing learning strictly in a traditional classroom.

Each day is structured to include group time, free choice and planned activities/projects based on the children’s interests, which they are invited to participate in. Through storytelling, games and songs children learn math & literacy as well as social skills and experience good old fashioned joy. Nature and math go hand in hand, we are constantly counting, measuring and sortingthe objects around us. During Forest School children also use a variety of hand tools and construct bridges, forts & fairy houses. These are the kinds of hands on skills that really engage children's joy of learning and will help our little ones to have the foundation of experiential learning that they need.  Obviously, this is an immersion in the natural world that nourishes the scientist in each participant.

Most importantly,  our low teacher to child ratio enables us to really spend time scaffolding each child’s social and emotional development. This is what kindergarten teachers want most from incoming students.  

Can I come visit?

If you are a parent interested in touring our school, please sign up for one of our open houses. The schedule is posted in January. Because of the number of requests we get and the impact on our classes, we do not offer personalized tours. If you are an educator or student interested in the Forest School model, we do our best to accommodate, please also check out our resources page for further information.

Why Early Ecology Education?

 In their most formative years children need direct contact with nature, time to experiment, express themselves and learn through touch and action about the world around them.  In order to nurture the next generations to be stewards of this earth, children need a rich natural environment, a community of other children and caring, thoughtful adults.  With the majority of people living in cities; we need to create opportunities for our urban children to regularly spend time in natural playscapes.  Developing their own relationship with the local wild spaces children learn about cycles of nature such as: life, death and regeneration and the food and waste cycles, as well as receiving the health and wellness benefits that come from playing outdoors and nature.   In addition to the research behind the importance of nature play for children there is also the priceless joy, confidence and life-long wonder that children who have a nature rich childhood enjoy.  

Web Resources

Academy of Forest Kindergarden Teachers

Offering training and certification for  educators dedicated to connecting children with nature.

Children & Nature Network (C&NN)
A world wide network dedicated to connecting children and nature.  

Center for Ecoliteracy- The Center for Ecoliteracy is a nonprofit that advances ecological education in K–12 schools.  Great resource for parents and teachers.


Benefits – National Wildlife Federation
This website has links to studies proving the many benefits of spending time in nature, including less stress and better standardized test scores!  Great resource for parents and teachers.

LIfe Lab- A national leader in the garden-based learning movement life lab offers workshops and resources. 

National Institute of Play- Founded by Dr. Stewart Brown, dedicated to integrating scientific research on play into life.  

Recommended Books

The Last Child in the Woods
by Richard Louv, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, ©2005

Growing Up Wild – Exploring Nature with Young Children
by The Council For Environmental Education, ©2009

Natural Playscapes-  Creating Outdoor Play Environments for the Soul, by Rusty Keeler ©2008

Sowing the Seeds of Wonder- Discovering the Garden in Early Childhood Education
by Life Lab, published by The National Gardening Association ©2010

Place-Based Education
by David Sobel, The Orion Society, ©2004


Programs for Older Children and Adults

Art of Mentoring / 8 Shields - The 8 Shields model by Jon Young, fosters mentoring and deep nature connection practices. http://8shields.org/

Gaia Girls - Nature based girls groups, long term mentoring, summer camps, rites of passage ceremonies combining social and emotional intelligence skills with deep nature connection. Various East Bay locations, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco, CA. https://www.gaiagirlspassages.org/

Riekes Center - Nature awareness, summer camps, fitness, community service, and creative arts. The Core Values of Self Supervision, Honest Communication and Sensitivity to Others are the Center’s operational and social standards. South Bay, Menlo Park, CA. http://www.riekes.org/

Sienna Ranch - Preschool through teen programs, summer camps, special events, and holiday camps. Uses multifaceted learning experiences based on a 21-acre ranch. East Bay Area, Lafayette, CA. https://www.siennaranch.net/

Stepping Stones - Teens programs to guide and support through long term mentoring and contemporary rites of passage through nature based programs. Various Bay Area Locations. http://www.steppingstonesproject.org/

Trackers - Youth and adult outdoor skills programs, forest school preschool and kindergarten, summer camps, specialty workshops, after school programs, and mentoring programs. East Bay Area, Berkeley, CA. https://trackersbay.com/

Weaving Earth - Adult, teen, and youth programs guided by the inherent interrelationship of all life, Weaving Earth fosters leadership in support of the holistic health of people, communities and the planet upon which we all depend. North Bay, Sonoma County, CA. https://weavingearth.com/

Vilda - Wilderness skills, nature connection, and ecological stewardship through summer camps, after school programs, backpacking trips, homeschool programs, specialty workshops and more. North Bay Area, Fairfax, CA. http://www.vildanature.org/

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