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A (b)log of Natural Resources Info

A lot of our work as Trees For Tomorrow (TFT) environmental educators is dynamic, ever-changing—different schools, different age-groups—no two weeks of teaching ever quite look the same. This makes our KinderWild Camp (KWC) a fairly unique program to be a part of. No other TFT activity occurs weekly with (largely) the same group of participants, giving educators ample time to get to know their students. And while the material presented week after week will always vary, the structure of a KinderWild day remains consistent, with time allotted for lesson plans, outdoor play, crafts, snack time, and rest time. 

KinderWild is a day camp for ages 3-5 that occurs in eight-week sessions—one in spring, one in fall, and one in winter. Participants can register for a half-day (four hours) or full day session (eight hours), with each half of the day centered around a particular theme. Some talking points in winter KWC might include how animals survive in the cold, how to identify different footprints in the snow, and how otters love to slide around in the ice. 

I started my position at Trees For Tomorrow working at KinderWild Camp semi-regularly. However, with the start of our fall 2023 session, I’ve co-coordinated the program and helped write many of the lesson plans, giving me a new perspective on the program as a whole. And what struck me this time around, returning week after week for these fall programs, was the stark sense of development and change in the students that came repeatedly. Students that struggled greatly with being away from their parents grew far more relaxed and engaged with their peers as weeks went on. On trips through our forest trail or our Nature PlayScape, students excitedly point out details from lessons from the day and from weeks prior. 

I was curious to go a bit beyond the anecdotal evidence and look into what research has been done on the benefits of outdoor education. One 2017 study demonstrated that a group of Turkish preschoolers’ cognitive, motor, linguistic, and social-emotional skills improved significantly after outdoor environments and activities (such as creating a nature album) were incorporated into their curriculum (Yildirim and Akamca 2017). In a similar vein, one study followed 562 students over the course of four years and found that outdoor time in preschool can improve attention spans (Ulset et al. 2017). Another study showed that while teachers have highly positive thoughts about outdoor education, they might lack the training or ability to accomplish such an approach in their own classroom (Jidovtseff et al. 2021). 

While studies like these don’t perfectly apply to our KinderWild Camp, (they’re largely regarding incorporating traditional classroom settings) they help illustrate just how vital it is for children this age to spend time outside, and how TFT offers an environment of learning that can’t always be replicated in schools due to constraining factors. 

All this to say—I'm excited for our winter session of KinderWild Camp. Not only to see how our returning students continue to grow, but to see what new faces will join us for another session of learning in the Northwoods winter. A little time in the cold never hurt anybody—studies show it does us all a bit of good! 

Studies referenced in this blog: 

  1. Yıldırım, Günseli, and Güzin Özyılmaz Akamca. "The effect of outdoor learning activities on the development of preschool children." South African journal of education 37.2 (2017).
  2. Jidovtseff, Boris, et al. "Outdoor education practices in Belgian preschools and relationships with both environmental and personal factors." Journal of Physical Education and Sport 21 (2021).
  3. Ulset, Vidar, et al. "Time spent outdoors during preschool: Links with children's cognitive and behavioral development." Journal of Environmental Psychology 52 (2017): 69-80.




Author Jane Feely, Trees For Tomorrow Environmental Educator and KinderWild Camp program coordinator.