Why You Should Consider Forest School Instead of Traditional Preschool


This post is in partnership with Sapling Forest Preschool.

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My three-year-old daughter, Kiara, recently attended Sapling Forest Preschool, located in the Presidio. I cannot say enough good things about her experience and the wonderful staff. First, I would like to share with you what a Forest School is because it is quite different than traditional preschool. I will also explain why this might be the right kind of school for your child. 

What Is Forest School? 

Forest School is a type of play-based learning that takes place entirely outdoors in a wooded area. The children lead their own learning through discovery and exploration in the natural world. 

There is no indoor facility at all to really emphasize the purely outdoor, immersive experience a forest school offers. Instead of relying on indoor shelter, children learn to dress for the weather so that they can observe nature’s many faces. If the weather is extreme, the staff takes their students to visit an indoor location like a children’s museum for the day. 

The Presidio is the absolute perfect place for children to spend their days hiking, climbing, and exploring. Observing Kiara in this environment, I was reminded of a few truths that have me convinced that Forest School is the ideal way for small children to spend their days. 

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Why Should You Consider Forest School?

First, nature is the best playground. The kids were naturally drawn to climb up onto stumps and tree branches or stomp through creeks. There seemed to be a biological drive to hold a stick in one hand and a rock in the other: Kiara and the other children appeared at pick-up with these two toys nearly every day. 

When I think about it, toys and play structures are really just manmade versions of what nature already provides. When I studied child development and education, I learned how children need an age-appropriate environment for optimal development, and that there are specific toys and structures ideal for each age. After learning about Forest School, I can see how the natural world simplifies the process of preparing an age-appropriate environment; after all, the woods are our natural habitat, no matter how long we have lived in cities. 

Speaking of living in cities, kids in San Francisco don’t generally have much experience with nature. And that is just another reason why it needs to be a part of their education. Did you know that regular exposure to trees and outdoor plants has a calming effect on both children and adults? It has even been found to lengthen our lives. 

Why There Aren’t Many “Problem Behaviors” at Forest School

Back to the forest as our natural habitat: I want to talk about how Forest School reduces behavioral issues. A lot of discipline “problems” in early education are truly just misdirected energy. 

Teachers often struggle with overly-active or sensory seeking behaviors in the classroom. Most of the time, these problem behaviors come from developmentally normal expressions—the real problem being that little kids are not designed to sit quietly and listen for long periods of time. They are still discovering through pure experience and they are developing their gross motor skills by experimenting with them. 

Kiara has been “in trouble” for climbing bookshelves in her indoor play-based program, and I have noticed that what helps is taking her out to the park daily to climb the jungle gym. It’s like she has this natural and urgent drive to climb. Forest School provides kids the opportunity to learn and develop in the way most appropriate. 

When it comes down to it, I believe Forest School is the ideal preschool environment because it best meets the needs of children in this age group. Plus, kids will spend so much of their lives trapped indoors, why start it early?

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What We Loved about Sapling Forest Preschool 

Brad and Chris were incredibly skilled at facilitating child-led learning. They had mastered the delicate balance between guiding and letting the kids discover and independently explore. 

Both Brad and Chris were kind and easy-going leaders, who knew when to observe and when to subtly intervene. They used positive discipline strategies so that the kids always felt safe and encouraged by them. 

A major part of what made their program so effective was their well-thought-out daily hikes. Each day was a visit to a different environment, whether to climb huge stumps and roots, walk through a creek, or explore a redwood grove. They also created a predictable structure for each day, in which adventure and discover could blossom. 

We plan to continue Kiara’s time at Sapling Forest Preschool. They offer year-round enrollment, with either half or school-day schedules, and from two to five days per week. Expect your little ones to come home from Sapling Forest covered in dirt and bruises, and with huge smiles on their faces! 

Enroll through Wonderschool or learn more at Sapling Forest Preschool’s webpage.



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