As schools across the country cut recess in favor of test prep, and kids spend more time indoors staring at screens, there is a growing movement to reacquaint children with nature, free play, and the joy of exploring the great outdoors. Modeled after the forest kindergartens that have long been popular in Germany and Scandinavia, nature-based preschools, kindergartens, and other outdoor programs for young children are popping up all over the U.S., including New Jersey.
In these programs, children examine flora and fauna, climb trees, make art, splash in streams, play with mud, count sticks, sing, listen to stories, and more. Proponents of outdoor learning point to its many benefits, saying it can improve cognitive function and physical health, boost confidence and empathy, and even counter symptoms of ADHD.
The Garden State offers a variety of options, from preschool programs that take place entirely outdoors to more traditional schools that place a premium on spending time outside. There are even parent-and-child classes, so grown-ups can get in on the fun, too. All promote child-led, unstructured play as a means to spark curiosity and foster learning and a love of nature.
To find more opportunities for outdoor learning and exploration, check out NJ's great nature centers, and for a comprehensive selection of classes of all kinds, take a look at our guide to Classes and Enrichment Programs for NJ Kids.