Wauhatchie Forest School, Tennessee’s first forest kindergarten program based in Chattanooga, Tenn., will expand its campus to include additional sites in 2019.
Beginning this fall, Wauhatchie School will continue to offer classes at its main campus at Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Lookout Lake in Lookout Valley, and will expand to include sites at the Chattanooga Audubon Society and Ivy Academy in the Chattanooga area.
“It's been so much fun working with Wauhatchie School as they grow their presence across Chattanooga,” says Mark McKnight, President of Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center. “As we establish Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center as a hub for environmental education and conservation, we want to see these ideas spread. We want environmental education and access to the outdoors to be expected for all kids rather than some oddity. From our Forest Kindergarten workshop last year to hosting the students on a daily basis, the energy that Wauhatchie has brought to the property has been phenomenal.”
Forest Kindergarten is based on the German concept of waldkindergarten, meaning “forest nursery,” and it is gaining popularity in the United States. Typically serving children ages 3 to 6 years, Forest Kindergarten takes place entirely outdoors, rain or shine. Teachers supervise students in their explorations and play, but do not lead.
Wauhatchie School is a dream come true for the school’s founder, Jean Lomino, an educator of 40-plus years with a doctorate in leadership with an emphasis in environmental education.
According to Lomino, “Research shows that long-term exposure to the outdoors-particularly in one place-is the most effective way to develop a strong connection to nature. Studies have also shown that this kind of experience for children provides many important physical, social, emotional and academic benefits as well.”
Since its beginnings in 2015, Wauhatchie School has become a leader in forest school education. Lomino has been consulting with teachers at Gilbert Elementary in Lafayette, Georgia, to start the first public school Forest Kindergarten program in the country. She has also worked with Red Bank Elementary School’s Forest Kindergarten and outdoor education programs. Over the past four years, over 90 teachers have trained at Wauhatchie School, and most went on to establish new Forest Kindergarten programs throughout the southeast.
In 2017, Lomino spent two months working with Forest Kindergarten teachers and consulting in Guangzhou, China. Last spring a group of Chinese teachers from Jinan, as well as a teacher from Cape Town, South Africa, came to Wauhatchie School for training.
Lomino has also collaborated on research with the vice-chair of the Korean Forest Kindergarten Association and university professor, Dr. Jiyoun Shin. They studied character strength development in Forest Kindergarten with four Forest Kindergarten programs in the Chattanooga area. They are currently writing the results of their research which will be presented this summer and authoring a Forest Kindergarten guidebook.
Open House events for parents are being held at all four locations this winter. For more information, visit www.Wauhatchie.org.