We can hear the parents in the heartland and elsewhere laughing at us NYC denizens now. “Wait. You live in New York City and your kid is learning to survive in the wild — in a park?” (Ok, fair.) But that doesn’t mean the new programs and classes inspired and influenced by the Forest School model — which develops kids’ self-confidence and curiosity through direct exploration of nature — aren’t pretty darn cool. Here’s where kids can get wild.

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photo: Brooklyn Nature Days

Forest School 101
Like so many things in vogue these days (hello, hygge) the Forest School concept is Danish in origin. The natural world is literally the classroom in Forest School, with children learning and playing in a forest or woodland environment. Leaner-led, this outdoor education model is said to develop students’ confidence and self-esteem and strengthen social skills, problem-solving and the ability to work as part of a team. It also, obviously, increases kids connection to, and understanding, of the Earth.

Lots of people think the Danes are onto something: Forest school preschool alternatives have cropped up all over the country, and now, NYC kids can go into the wild too, in a variety of ways.

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photo: Brooklyn Children’s Museum

Forest School: The Exhibit
You can give your child a taste of living off the land inside at the new exhibit at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, “Wilderness Camp”.  An indoor experience that brings the great outdoors to family audiences through role-play and the exploration of nature, this interactive installation is created in partnership with contemporary artist Tattfoo Tan, whose work is featured as part of the exhibit.

Kids can strap on a backpack filled with some of the necessities of wilderness exploration: a compass, canteen, mess kit, magnifying glass, net, blanket, tools, and a map of local trails and green spaces to explore.

Visitors will also learn about different ways of creating shelters, plants that provide food and building materials, and techniques that transform natural materials into functional, everyday objects. An over-sized tent provides shelter and a space for macrame and shadow puppet play, and kids can also pick up some survival techniques and food preservation methods.

Through June 4, 2017
Brooklyn Children’s Museum
145 Brooklyn Ave.
Crown Heights
718-735-4400
Online: brooklynkids.org

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photo: Brooklyn Nature Days

A Little or a Lot of Forest School in Brooklyn
Brooklyn Nature Days brings the forest school philosophy to a preschool alternative held Prospect Park in all kinds of weather. Child-led inquiry and the natural surroundings such as the changes of seasons, animals and plant life, inspire each day’s activities.

Founded by Sarah Carlson, a Bank Street Graduate and certified Forest School Kindergarten Teacher, Brooklyn Nature Days also runs school vacation camps, if sampling the forest school way is more your speed.

A typical day begins with a hike to a chosen location, is followed by a hello circle and songs, and is followed by unstructured free play, a high protein/complex carbohydrate snack and activities such storytelling, arts and crafts and nature journaling. Children are invited to participate in activities, but also have the right to continue exploring their own interests if they prefer. Small class size and low student-to-teacher ratio help ensure each kid gets the attention they need.

Both preschool alternative and camps are offered as few as one day a week or as many as five. Drop off locations are at park entrance points of Grand Army Plaza, Prospect Park West and 3rd Street, and Prospect Park West and 9th Street.

Rates start at $70/day.

Brooklyn Nature Days
917-855-4255
Online: brooklynnaturedays.com

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photo: Queens Botanical Garden

Forest School, Queens Edition
It’s not all happening in Brooklyn — The Queens Botanical Garden has forest fever, too. The organization recently announced the debut of a brand new drop-off nature program for children ages two through six.

“Forest Explorers” is rooted in the Forest School model and will engage kids and foster self-confidence through play-based discovery and thematic exploration and activities. That means everything from  digging for worms, splashing in puddles, and snack-making to gathering fresh flowers, hut-building and storytelling. It will run March 7 through June 23, and registration is open now.

The program will take place at the Garden from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and children can attend one, two, three or four days a week. Experienced educators guide children through the three-hour outdoor program, which seeks to help kids develop self-assertion, develop community, understand and appreciate their boundaries and expand their imaginations.

43-50 Main St.
Flushing
718-886-3800
Online: queensbotanical.org

Has your child attended a forest school? Tell us about it in the comments! 

— Mimi O’Connor