We shared Joohee’s Favorite Rice! at Upper Manhattan Forest Kids, a great forest school dedicated to encouraging the connection between young people and the natural environment.
Nestled in a wooded corner of Central Park in New York City, you might find a curious and adventurous group of children investigating the pond’s edge or uncovering rocks. What are they doing? They are in forest school getting wet and learning about their environment and themselves.
This summer, we read Joohee’s Favorite Rice! to the Saturday morning class. As the children snacked, Forest Kids founder Sarita read the English portion of our book and author Victoria Kim read the Korean parts. It was amazing to watch the children’s faces as they heard the Korean words spoken—such new and interesting sounds for them.
After the reading, we asked Sarita and Stephan of Upper Manhattan Forest Kids to share more about their school.
What makes your forest school unique?
Our approach is grounded in the model of Danish forest schooling. That doesn't refer to a specific pedagogy but rather there are commonalities and qualities that are distinct in Danish forest schools. For instance, Danes take pride in their culture of trusting children. They know that most of the time children will only venture out as far as they are comfortable with. That doesn’t mean that they won’t fall or experience an unpleasant situation. However, children are not protected from those experiences, but are trusted to be able to handle minor scrapes and falls and learn from them. Also, each forest school is defined by the culture and environment of the area. Therefore, instead of a one-size-fits-all class structure that almost seems like an indoor class brought outdoors, our classes are created with consideration and inclusion of the actual landscape of the outdoor space. Areas are chosen for exploration based on the opportunities they hold for building skill sets and are collectively named.
When you pick books to read at forest school, what is the criteria?
The books chosen for forest school support the class themes, some of which include relating to the outdoors, relating to community, dealing with challenges and other similar subjects that have young people consider their surroundings to include not just people but nature as well. We also strive to include a variety of cultures and languages in our books to represent the demographics of our class community as well as the larger diverse community that is New York City.
What kinds of change do you see in children after attending forest school?
Other than the obvious advances in gross and fine motor skills improved through climbing and exploring in the outdoors, we've also seen personalities become bolder and more resilient. Children who were awkward in their body become expert climbers. Children who are shy and squeamish about getting dirty become great at building stick houses and playing outdoor games with other children.
Of course, our son has been a member of this wonderful school, and we highly recommend it. One thing we learned as parents is that each class taught us to let go a little more, to allow our son to explore, get dirty, or fall here and there. He was always able to pick himself up and learn from the experience, and it was great for us to see that. Plus, we learned to see a side of Central Park that maybe we never saw while pushing a stroller—its forest side. Forest school was just as valuable to us as it is to the children.
Their Fall Semester
Upper Manhattan Forest Kids' fall semester starts the third week of September. They offer classes in both Central Park and Inwood Park (Upper Manhattan), on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, for children as young as one through age six. They even offer a free trial class (reservations are required and spots are limited).