Kinderforest

Merry Lea’s nature-based early childhood programs are unique to the region and unique to the field as we deliver partnership-based programs.

Traditional classrooms are realizing the benefits of nature and taking students outside for student learning and growth. A key component of Kinderforest is multiple return visits to a natural location, at least once per month. Activities on a Kinderforest day connect to classroom topics, spark new ways of engaging this content and are linked to state standards.

We have partnered with local public, private and Montessori schools in creating and implementing several Kinderforest programs.

Our Partnership Model

Here at Merry Lea, we do not host our own Kinderforest. Rather, we train and collaborate with regional schools to implement their own programs. We create and implement Kinderforest programs based on the participating schools’ needs by customizing 6 tracks: curriculum development, Kinderforest visitation dates, professional development, planning and coordination, evaluation and family involvement. 

We recognize that each school’s needs and settings are unique. Roles and tasks adjust monthly and yearly to ease participating schools into taking ownership of their Kinderforest programs in a sustainable way. For some schools, we are more hands-on: implementing and transferring program ownership over a 3-year period; while for other schools we are consultants: providing initial training and philosophy development, and support as needed.

 

 

Here is our broad model for a hands-on implementation
plan for Year 1

 

For more explanations regarding each track, click the button.

We have partnered closely with Goshen College Lab Kindergarten and Central Noble Schools to implement Kinderforest programs over multiple years.

We have also offered various forms of support and resources to other schools and districts who are in various stages of exploring and implementing their individual programs. These include West Noble Schools, Oak Farm Montessori, Prairie Heights School District, Goshen Community Schools and others.

What does a typical day look like?

Rhythms are created by allowing students to develop routines around familiar activities such as sit spots, community circles, free exploration and other excursions. All throughout, teachers engage by providing appropriate stimuli, modeling curiosity and other support.

Sit spot time: a sit spot* is a student-selected location in the outdoor classroom, which students visit at the beginning of each program day to sit and observe. This independent time is an opportunity for self-exploration, to develop self awareness and an appreciation for their space. Students are free to interact with their space, journal their thoughts, and notice what they hear, smell, see or feel.
* See Resources and Research for more information and documents on sit spots.

Group activities or community time: full-group activities are included purposefully and carefully to stimulate social growth.

Free exploration and discovery: our curricular approach balances foundational routines with individual evolving interests and exploration. By allowing appropriate risk and emergent play, students will become attuned to seasonal changes, and develop skills with physical, social, cognitive and emotional benefits.

Introduce opportunities children can explore: students are offered many options for how to do a presented activity, use the materials, or otherwise engage with the content. Students have a choice between and agency over these immersive activities.

Connections to the classroom: Aligning Kinderforest activities and indoor classroom work makes the learning during a Kinderforest day both deeper and more meaningful. Making classroom connections in Kinderforest lesson plans can take the form of directly correlating current themes, reinforcing topics being discussed or continuing to practice skills learned in the classroom.

Partner With Us

Not only can our model be adapted to be either hands-on or consultative, but we also train and encourage participating schools to utilize the outdoor spaces on their school property.

Email Marcos Stoltzfus at marcosas@goshen.edu for questions about beginning Kinderforest at your school, additional professional development, observation opportunities or other resources.


We believe nature-based early childhood education is a powerful tool to help children grow, learn and develop. We want to get that tool into the hands of educators in our region. 

To find out more about partnership model adaptations, educational training, resources, research and professional development opportunities, click the button.

Stories from our Kinderforest Programs

Questions about Kinderforest?

Email Marcos Stoltzfus at marcosas@goshen.edu for any questions about Kinderforest, our partnership model or other resources.

Photos from Participating Schools’ Kinderforest Classrooms