After a long day cooped up inside, Ruth Haske’s 4-year-old daughter was ecstatic to get outdoors when the thunder subsided last week. She bounded down the steps to help her dad take a bag of garbage to the compost pit, and stopped to check the status of her beet seedlings in the family’s garden before heading back to the house. The compost pit and vegetable garden are not only everyday essentials in the Haske household, but they’ll soon double as a classroom.
Haske and her husband bought three and a half acres of property west of the city last year with a plan to open a “forest school” for children under 5. It’s been about a year since the family of four moved into the cottage-like home perched on a steep wooded hill off Route 637, and Haske is accepting applications to the school for this coming fall.
The children at Ivy Forest School, ages 2-5, will explore outside every day, rain or shine. Too many kids associate education with being cooped up inside at a desk all day, Haske said.
“The rules are different when you’re outside,” she said.
A native of England and an educator of 12 years, Haske said she’s been inspired by European forest school programs, and particularly the Italians’ Reggio Emilia approach, which fosters education through exploration and sensory experiences.
“It’s this idea that the forest, or the woodlands, or wherever you are, is the classroom in itself,” she said. “The kids aren’t sitting in desks, but are really integrated into the environment.”
A typical morning at Ivy Forest School will start out like any other preschool class: circle time, a story, and a quick discussion about the plan for the day. Haske will then take the kids outside, where they’ll make mud pies, count pine cones, make up stories about birds, build fairy houses, stomp in puddles, or taste blueberries and mint leaves straight from the pick-and-eat garden.
The kids will play and learn outside in all climates, Haske said, even during the cold months. She ran a free forest play group before the family moved, and said parents were skeptical and hesitant to let their kids out in the dreary, soggy weather. But with the proper clothes, sloshing around in mud puddles is both fun and safe.
“There’s something to be said for having the right gear,” said Haske, who recalled watching a group of puffy, waterproof toddlers in gloves and rain pants have the time of their lives during a downpour last year. “We just pulled off all the clothes, then we came inside and had warm tea.”
Haske can accommodate five children, not including her own 2-year-old, every day Monday through Friday. Future plans include licensing, which will allow her to accept up to 12 kids. But for now, her short-term goal is to raise $12,000 to build a platform quilted yurt, which will house mats for napping and basic, natural toys like wooden blocks and silk pieces, and an open space for indoor quiet time. She launched a KickStarter campaign this week, and hopes to have the yurt up and running in time for school this fall.
Haske will start out as the school’s sole teacher, but hopes to get parents invested and involved in a cooperative set-up. Parents who can devote one day a week to helping out at the school each week will receive a discount on the $48 per day tuition.
“I really want to get the parents involved,” she said. “I want this to be a team effort.”