Lessons from a Forest Kindergarten
A year in the life of a forest kindergarten in Switzerland where being outdoors and unstructured play are the main components.
Directed by Lisa Molomot
Produced by Rona Richter
Camera, Editor: Lisa Molomot
Music: Ted Reichman
A Linden Tree Films Production
No classroom for these kindergarteners. In Switzerland's Langnau am Albis, a suburb of Zurich, children 4 to 7 years of age, go to kindergarten in the woods every day, no matter what the weather. This eye-opening film follows the forest kindergarten through the seasons of one school year and looks into the important question of what it is that children need at that age. There is laughter, beauty and amazement in the process of finding out.
"A delightful, nicely developed film that effectively illustrates the importance of play in a child's development." Library Journal
The documentary is a combination of pure observational footage of the children at kindergarten in the forest, paired with interviews with parents, teachers, child development experts, and alumni, offering the viewers a genuine look into the forest kindergarten. There are also scenes of a traditional kindergarten in the United States to show the contrast between the different approaches.
Grade Level: K-12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2014
Copyright Date: 2013
DVD ISBN: 1-93777-298-5
"This film captures the wonder and joy of authentic learning that occurs when children are afforded the luxury of time, space and nature. The young children display immense confidence, skill and competence. American educators will be challenged to reconceptualize the purpose of kindergarten - the curriculum and the learning environment - from the lessons of this distinctive classroom."
Mary Jane Eisenhauer, Assistant Professor, Early Childhood Education, Purdue University North Central
"School's Out dramatically and skillfully provides American educators, families and policymakers with an alternative model for thinking about what engaging, active and effective social, emotional and intellectual education for young children can be. It wisely challenges us to reflect on what has been lost, both in and out of school, and what the consequences might be for today's children and beyond."
Dr. Diane Levin, Professor of Early Childhood Education, Wheelock College, Founder of Defending the Early Years Project, Author of Beyond Remote-Controlled Childhood
"What a great way to show people the importance of outdoor play and exploration for young children! I hope all educators, administrators, and parents will watch this and take it to heart. The high stress on academics in early childhood just isn't necessary. Teachers, even if you can't teach your classes in the forest, take inspiration from this, your students and society will thank you."
Stacy Carr-Poole, Director of Education, Riverbend Environmental Education Center
"Children who attend the forest kindergarten learn how to problem solve. They become independent. They explore the world with delight...Although they don't begin academic learning until age seven, they catch up with their American counterparts by the time they are ten. Do their American counterparts ever catch up with their Swiss peers to discover what children who attend the forest kindergarten have learned about the world and one another? This film poses serious and disturbing questions about what is being lost because of the now global preoccupation with the development of academic proficiencies at an early age."
Greg Smith, Professor of Teacher Education, Lewis and Clark College, Author, Place-Based Education: Learning to Be Where We Are
"Though this documentary is especially important for adults, younger viewers will love learning about this non-traditional environment."
Jenny Ventling, Greene Co. Public Library, School Library Journal
"What the children gain is greater ability to socialize, resolve conflicts, use their imagination, cooperate, and understand the physical world around them...A delightful, nicely developed film that effectively illustrates the importance of play in a child's development. A useful purchase for collections that deal with primary and early childhood education."
Ernest Jaeger, North Plainfield Schools, Library Journal
"This thought-provoking production offers interviews with parents, teachers, and a pediatrician who share the benefits of the outdoor experience as well as the concerns and challenges of these two early childhood educational programs. A nice addition to professional collections in elementary school media centers and public libraries."
Linda M. Teel, East Carolina University, School Library Journal
"An intriguing look at a different approach to early education...especially recommended for early childhood educators."
The Midwest Book Review
"Let's enjoy a lovely, hopeful image of cultivating kids' robust mental health. Travel with me to a little town outside of Zurich, Switzerland. There, a pre-school reliably grows healthy, resilient, confident, self-reliant problem-solvers...These kids will not be obese. They love nature. Their terrific social skills will reduce depression. They are not frightened by statistically non-existent stranger danger. The Swiss will not be paying for their preventable mental illnesses. But to give such experiences to American kids, we will have to get over our obsessions with safety, liability and getting every kid into Harvard. Which we should do anyway."
Julia Steiny, Founding Director, Youth Restoration Project, GoLocalProv
"A powerful and beautifully crafted documentary that illuminates who children are, what's important to them, and what should be important to us as educators."
Salvatore Vascellaro, Graduate Faculty, Bank Street College of Education
"School's Out is a wonderful reminder about the most important developmental tasks of young childhood. These are about learning a mastery orientation to the world, understanding the consequences of behaviors, and figuring out how to handle frustration, delay gratification, and deal with failures. Then there's learning to work with others, figuring out plans and scripts-all a part of moving from parallel to negotiated play - and realizing how to collectively use each other's abilities. These are crucial life skills that children in the featured Forest Kindergarten are focused on each day."
Tina A. Grotzer, Associate Professor of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education
"Highly Recommended...Challenges the expectations we have of children and the traditional American school system...Allows viewers to observe the resilience of the students at play; naturally solving conflicts, participating in teamwork, and using tools with no prompting or guidance from an adult. Appropriate for child development and education classes and collections."
Sara Parme, SUNY Fredonia, Educational Media Reviews Online
"Every parent and teacher should see this film."
Dr. Marcy Guddemi, Executive Director, Gesell Institute of Child Development
"This film has touched me profoundly."
Barbara Stern, Early Childhood Education Consultant
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include an extended interview with Dr. Marcy Guddemi, Executive Director of the Gesell Institute of Child Development, scene selection and SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
The film's website
Awards and Festivals
Best Short Film Award, Colorado Environmental Film Festival
Best Education Award, Cinema Verde Environmental Film & Arts Festival
Prescott Film Festival, Best Documentary Short
Bronze Plaque, Columbus International Film+Video Festival
Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival
Environmental Film Festival at Yale
Hollywood Film Festival
Sidewalk Film Festival
Newburyport Documentary Film Festival
The Boonies International Film Festival
Women's International Film & Arts Festival, Miami
Providence Children's Film Festival
Lucerne International Film Festival
Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival
Greenbuild International Film Festival
Hebrides International Film Festival
Bisbee Eco Film Festival
Early Childhood Education
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"School's Out inspired me to found a forest kindergarten in my public elementary school."
Eliza Hutchinson, kindergarten teacher, Ottauquechee Schools
"We should pause over...the implications of constantly channeling kids in a predetermined direction. This isn't just about reliance on technology - it's also a byproduct of the enormous anxiety parents feel about screwing up...Somewhere in our hearts, plenty of parents know that just can't be right - not all the time, anyway. That's why I'm so taken, I think, with a new 35-minute documentary about a forest kindergarten in Switzerland. Called School's Out: Lessons from a Forest Kindergarten, the movie is a provocative jumping-off point for discussion precisely because the schooling it documents seems inconceivable to American parents and educators."
Emily Bazelon, Slate Magazine
"There are no classes, or reading or writing. What there is, however, is learning...The film cleverly juxtaposes learning in a natural environment with the rigors of kindergarten for students in a typical North American setting."