A growing number of schools in Denmark have embraced outdoor learning as a part of the highly regarded Nordic education systems. The term ‘forest school’ or ‘forest kindergarten’ describes an engaging and motivating approach to play and learn outdoors, for children and young people as well as adults. Read more about free-range learning in Denmark.
Director of the outdoor learning consultancy Inside-Out Nature, Jane Williams-Siegfredsen experienced a “forest school” in Denmark for the first time in 1993. Since then the forest schools in Denmark have increased in popularity.
As a precaution against the spread of the corona virus, Danish Prime Minister Mette Fredriksen urged teachers to allow for as much time outdoors as possible when the schools reopened in April. “Learn from the Danes and make the natural world a part of children’s learning experiences,” urges Williams-Siegfredsen.
In a forest outside Copenhagen, Søren Emily Markepramd is the director of Stockholmsgave Centrum, a kindergarten teaching around 66 children from the ages of two to six ordinary classroom skills with books, just free-range.
On the island of Samsø, Samsø Frie Skole embraced a new way to hold certain classes almost entirely outdoors. The Scandinavian approach to using the outdoors as a part of the pedagogy of early years settings has its roots in the work of the German educator Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel, who inspired Danish pedagogues to start a kindergarten system. The system included natural environments and opportunities for young children to develop and learn outdoors.
Forest Schools have become culturally accepted in Denmark, where they originated in the 1950s, and have spread to countries including Germany, where there are around 2,000 outdoor kindergartens. A recent survey of 200 Norwegian schools, more than half said they had begun to provide more outdoor classes. Researchers in Denmark confirm a similar trend.
A survey conducted in 2009 by Copenhagen Council listed the values that parents and pedagogues feel to be most important for children to learn in early years settings as self-worth, independence, consideration for others, and tolerance. Present day Danish pedagogy sees child upbringing and the relationships between the young person, the family and society in a democratic and humanistic way.
“A lot of research says spending time outdoors is great for children: they have better concentration, they are much better socially, more creative, more innovative,” said Markepramd. “They are actually just happier.”
Denmark’s relatively smooth reopening of schools advocates for outdoor schooling and authorities say they hope the newfound acceptance of the approach will outlive the pandemic.
The curriculum for pre-school settings in Denmark became law in 2004 and every institution has to make an institutional curriculum plan that includes Body and movement and Nature and natural phenomena. Children in Denmark’s Forest Schools are supervised by “pedagogues”, who have completed a special three-and-a-half-year bachelor’s degree, and are trained to provide holistic support for the toddlers.
The Samsø Frie Skole is surrounded by grain fields, including an old farmhouse where the students will be able to take shelter in bad weather. Like many other schools in Denmark, the school on Samsø is in large part funded through public grants.
Evidence that children being outdoors on a daily basis, all year round, benefits their learning and development has been documented in Scandinavia for over 20 years. Studies relieve that students have better concentration, they are much better socially, more creative, more innovative. They are actually just happier.
“Students taught outside display higher motivation levels than their peers in classrooms,” said Karen Barfod, a professor at VIA University College in Denmark who studies outdoor schooling. “Those who study outside for at least two hours a week also tend to achieve somewhat better reading test scores, according to one study,” she said.
Perhaps, as Markepramd ponders, reengaging children with nature might have broader implications. “The thinking is that if you have joy and positive experience in nature, you will grow up and take more care of our world,” she says.
Free-range Learning in Denmark, written by Tor Kjolberg