It seems like everywhere you look these days, there is a general agreement that children should be outside for a longer amount of time than the average. Our sister site, Knoxville Moms, recently wrote a personal post about a pediatrician’s “prescription” of three hours of outdoor activity, and one of our contributors wrote about how free range parenting allows her children outdoor time. Memes abound lamenting the days of our mothers when we were allowed to play outside all summer without fear, and send us looking for new ways to implement outdoor playing and living on a regular basis.
Chattanooga is a uniquely situated habitat which allows for urban living within minutes of the great outdoors; rivers, streams, boulders and mountains, even wetland areas, are open for our kids to explore, enjoy and learn. This is why many families relocate to our city and search out opportunities for their kids to spend the much needed and growth producing time with nature. We are thrilled to be able to introduce our readers to one of these opportunities!
The Wauhatchie School is a rapidly growing partnership that began with Forest Kindergarten in 2015. Its beginnings have roots in the European Forest Kindergarten movement. The desire to bring kids back outdoors in their highly formative years is only the tip of what the goals of Wauhatchie School has for its students. A safe environment for learning skills and risk-taking, stimulating curiosity, and the opportunity to problem solve together reach into the deeper ideas of what Forest Kindergarten can mean to a student. Creating better learners and leaders by using the outdoors has proven to be a result of many of the graduating students who are instructed in benchmark standards that enable them transition into the 2nd grade level upon completion.
Looking towards the 2019-20 school year, the Wauhatchie School has expanded to include Forest Preschool and Forest Homeschool (ages 7-12), with four different campuses in Chattanooga. Each of the classes remains at a low teacher to student ratio, 1:5 in the 4-6 ages and 1:12 in the 7-12 age range.
Though the Wauhatchie School may have humble beginnings and short history, it is becoming an international destination for countries desiring teacher training and a model to examine for their own children. The dream and goal of the Wauhatchie School is to share the forest learning model and make it the norm rather than the exception in schools around the city. One of the educators I was able to meet with explained that Chattanooga is a perfect location to incorporate forest kindergarten into the public schools since so many schools are located near a waterway or creek. Hamilton County teachers have already completed hours of training at the Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center location in Lookout Valley, which proves it as an excellent resource for our own educators, in its proximity and its experience.
The Forest Homeschool program adds a significant benefit to children around the area who are able to supplement their home education through forest education. It is a very new program which has the goal to serve the complete age range of homeschooled students. Students are learning through the same concepts of forest kindergarten and alongside their peers.