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  • Stacey Gummey

Why I decided to start a Forest Kindergarten.

We have a child who would prefer to:

-learn through touch, curiosity, exploration, collaboration and self regulation

-be in an outdoor classroom

-learn from a child-led approach

-play, discover and explore

-take social, emotional and physical risks

-ask questions based on interest

This isn't to say that he isn't one of the best things that has happened to us and is such a big light in our lives. In discussing his education we really thought it would be a disservice to place him in an environment where he may be set up to fail. That just didn't seem fair? So...onward to our journey!

A little back story for you. When my wonderful husband myself and 2 young children moved back to our hometown in PA we just wanted to take a break from living in Washington DC. I had worked as a Director of a preschool/playgroup in DC for 8 years prior to moving back to PA and had loved every minute of it. Our children were able to attend with me and have open-ended, unstructured play while socializing and building lasting relationships at a young age. However, when we made the big move we realized that we all needed a break from the business of a metropolitan city. We decided that I would stay home for a bit with our then 5 year old daughter and 2 year old son. It was a great decision at the time and we all thrived! After about 6 months I needed something for myself. Just a little process to keep my idea minded self happy. I had decided that children needed to get out more and was going to start a hiking/art process class. While talking to friends about open spaces I fell into an interview. I went telling my husband that I wasn't going to take a job but just to hear them out, I mean why not right? So I went and the Executive Director at the time approached me with the idea of starting a Forest Kindergarten. I hadn't studied this model before but had studied various emergent forms of curriculum so I wasn't terrified but very curious indeed. I left that meeting accepting a part time independent contractor position. This entailed taking one of their existing programs and within two years growing it into a Certified Forest Kindergarten. Two years seemed like a lifetime so I wasn't stressed at all. I figured this was a journey and I needed to sink myself into it! I also came home with my tail tucked behind me and told my husband that "I kind of accepted a job". Thank goodness he has a sense of humor and is supportive!

Well sink I did! Not in the terrible way but I went for it! I booked my teacher training at Cedarsong Nature School, who is the only organization who does certified teacher training. It was planes, rental cars and ferrys, oh my! You see Cedarsong is on Vashon Island, so you need to fly to Seattle, WA, take a bus to the rental car facility, drive to the ferry, find your airb&b then get food. I was exhausted merely by my travel. That was embarrassing! I was determined to be my best though and fully immerse myself with learning as much as I could and indeed I did. I'm not going to lie and say that my head wasn't spinning when I left. I did leave with a new appreciation for the pedagogy and was even more determined to learn through practice, reading and collaboration with like minded people. During this time of my life I also successfully completed the Pennsylvania Master Naturalist program. I am proud to say that I am a Certified Forest Kindergarten Teacher and a Pennsylvania Master Naturalist!

The process then went to my nationally recognized accreditation which was difficult, lots and lots of writing but oh so worth the hard work! Hickory Hill Nature School is now the second Forest Kindergarten to be accredited in the Country and first on the East Coast! As my husband said, "Hard work pays off dear". Boy was he correct. I am extremely proud of how much has been accomplished and also so happy that I am able to offer a program like this to children who will thrive. I now have applied for my non-profit status and will only grow from here.

Needless to say I built up a nice group of parents who also felt the way that I do and we have participants for our first year of Hickory Hill Nature School 2018! Don't be scared to make a change! Onward and upward.

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