Research shows nature play benefits children’s health, and there is now a free resource for families in Cache Valley to get outside and play together.
The Free Forest School program has chapters all around the country, and Kristina Stucki recently started a chapter here in the valley. She said when she moved here two months ago, there wasn’t a free play, child-led preschool program available to her three-year-old son. So, she put a call out to the community Facebook page to see if there were any other families interested in a program like this.
“Within two hours I had over 50 comments of people saying they’d be interested,” she said. “I decided to go ahead and start it so there would be something like this for my son, and I could find a tribe for myself.”
Free Forest School is based on the Forest School program that focuses on child-led nature play. Stucki said while there are several Forest Schools popping up, they are expensive. She was excited to see a free version that is inclusive to everyone.
Stucki said it took the parents a bit longer to catch on to the idea than the kids.
“Even just our first event the kids figured out how to ‘forest school’ in half a second and we all as moms took a minute. We realized, oh, I can step back. I can not interrupt what they’re doing, I can not be in charge for a minute. It was more of a learning curve for us,” she said.
In an October 2017 interview, Free Forest School Founder Anna Sharratt explained the role parents play in their program and the importance of free play.
“The role of adults at Free Forest School is very intentional. We use a ‘lightest touch’ approach; the idea that, if you do need to intervene, you do so in the lightest way you can, to preserve the children’s autonomy – their imagination, their interactions with one another – rather than adding an adult agenda.”
“Forest school is an opportunity to take a step back, whatever that looks like for you,” Stucki said. “There’s no wrong way to forest school. Everyone can do what feels good for them.”
Free Forest School groups host events where children and parents meet to explore and play together in nature. Stucki created a Cache Valley Forest School Facebook Group where parents can RSVP to an event. Each event is capped at 12, keeping the groups small enough to obtain their goals of letting kids take the lead.
Groups meet at Rendezvous Park each time. FFS website notes the benefits of starting at the same location each week. “Visiting a place repeatedly provides children the opportunity to build on their play from the previous week and work up to new physical challenges and accomplishments such as climbing or stream-crossing.”
Stucki said each week the kids get freer and the moms get more relaxed. She said the kids restart their projects from last week and are excited to back to the same spot.
The events are free, and those interested in becoming a facilitator for an event can join the Facebook group and get more details.