Indiana Educators Visit Southern Forest Schools

Katie Stoltzfus reflects with other teachers after a day packed with forest school visits in Georgia and Tennessee.

Carol Good-Elliott and Katie Stoltzfus of Merry Lea’s Environmental Education Outreach Team spent February 7 and 8 visiting Kinderforest programs in Tennessee and Georgia.

They joined 10 other educators in the region for the trip which was organized and funded by the Dekko Foundation, Kendallville, Ind. Jean Lomino, founder and director of Wauhatchie School, Chattanooga, Tenn., hosted the group.

A crash course in forest school

The educators visited multiple forest schools in Southeastern Tennessee and Northern Georgia. They observed teachers and students during forest school days, talked in-depth with teachers and school administrators, conversed via Skype with a researcher and practitioner in Seoul, South Korea, and reviewed research related to the benefits of forest schools. They also lived, traveled, brainstormed and debriefed together as a group, cementing relationships formed in Indiana.

Both Katie and Carol frequently teach in Merry Lea’s Kinderforest programs. Neither needed convincing that learning outdoors has physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual benefits. Still, there were many moments that inspired them.

“I saw a two-and-a-half-year-old open a field guide, flip to a picture, compare it to the creature on the ground and exclaim, ‘worm!’ I witnessed disorderly behavior change after the teacher asked, ‘What other choice can you make in this situation?’” Katie remarks.

Watching teachers learn too

The Merry Lea educators were also encouraged by seeing and hearing how the Noble County classroom teachers responded to the different Kinderforest models they saw. The experience increased self-confidence, momentum and passion for outdoor learning.

“The teachers were curious and excited to see how other classroom teachers are implementing Kinderforest in their schools. It will be interesting to see where the Kinderforest movement takes Noble County and Northeastern Indiana in the next few years,” Katie said.

The other Indiana organizations that sent representatives to the training were Chain O’ Lakes State Park, West Noble Primary, Central Noble Primary, Oak Farm Montessori, Prairie Heights Elementary and the Dekko Foundation. The visit should go a long way toward establishing a cohort of like-minded Kinderforest educators in Northeast Indiana, which was one of the Dekko Foundation’s goals for the trip.