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Rain or shine – kids enjoy the forest

In a forest day care center, learning and playing takes place in the nature throughout the year, no matter the weather conditions. There are no toys in the forest but other things to do and explore even more instead.

The “forest squirrels” day care group at the Puijonlaakso day care center has been active for two years now. There are 13 children in the group, 8 of which are attending preschool and 5 of which are 5 years old. The staff consists of Sari Naukkarinen, ateacher of early childhood, Minna Mönkkönen, a nanny for early childhood education and Merja Räsänen, a student.

The forest squirrels usually spend their whole day outdoors – rain or shine – for four days a week. Only exceptions are freezing cold temperatures and storms, they will make the forest squirrels stay inside at the day care center.

Kids playing in the woods
The children are free to play around the goahti.

Their home base is a goahti, a type of traditional Finnish shelter, where the children will gather after having their breakfast at the day care center. There is also a fire pit in the shelter, so kids can go in to stay warm. The shelter is also where the kids can do arts and crafts as well as other things that are better done with a roof over one’s head.

- We play the same games here as we would inside a building, the kids go shopping, cook, play house and build shelters. We don’t need any toys, the nature is full of toys for the kids to find, the staff says.

On a nature’s playground

Friday is an excursion day and Sandra’s birthday, who will turn 7 years old. The children climb on top of a rock they have named “Seppo’s food forest” to listen to the teacher’s instructions. Hugo was selected as “the mailman” while the traditional Finnish children’s song “pikkupoika posteljooni” (= little boy the mailman) is playing on the background. Hugo cirles around the group and hands over a birthday card to the birthday girl. After singing “Happy Birthday” and seven congratulations, Sandra blows out the candles on the “pinecone cake”, made by the children themselves. After some indulgence, the kids are soon playing again.

Vilma is sitting on a moss-covered rock munching a cookie and looking very happy. She says that she enjoys the forest as well as the indoors of the day care center. 

- The best thing is that I can pick flowers in the summer. The shelter is warm and we have warm sleeping bags. There is a slide at the day care center but here there are spruces that we can decorate as Christmas Trees. And everyone here is my friend.

Vilma is petting a branch of a small spruce.

- A bird could fly over here and slide down this branch like a playground slide, Vilma explains and heads off to her business. The imagination flies in the forest.

An adventure for the whole year

The teacher of early education Sari Naukkarinen ensures that it is possible to go through the whole preschool curriculum in a forest day care center.

- Planning is different and more challenging than for a traditional preschool group, but I think that it is a positive thing. We follow the same curriculum as all the other preschools. The learning environment, however, consists of forest nature instead of built walls.

Mathematical skills can be learnt, for example, by counting pinecones and sticks. Weekdays, shapes and forms, social skills and group working skills are learned through different tasks and games. The forest provides a huge amount of resources for learning.

Playing gets you moving

The staff can see many positive effects that moving in the nature has for the kids.

- Children develop their motor skills very quickly. Moving in the nature strengthens kids’ motor skills and enhances their physical condition. There are no restrictive walls or spaces and there is plenty of room for noise in the woods.

The versatile terrain offers a variety of possibilities for moving and practicing one’s motor skills. The recommendation of three hours of physical activity per day is already reached before noon.

The camping life isn’t over after a forenoon of playing in the nature. After grabbing lunch from the daycare center’s building the forest squirrels take a nap or rest at the shelter. After a while you can only hear stories being told and kids softly falling asleep. They will return to the daycare center late in the afternoon, after lessons and play hours.  

The wind has knocked over a pine making it a great climbing tree
The wind has knocked over a pine in the forest making it a great climbing tree.

Inside view of the comfy shelter
The forest squirrels’ goahti is a peaceful and calm home base.


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