Outdoor Kindergarten Proves Not So Scary

After she finished filming an outdoor classroom in Switzerland for a documentary, Lisa Molomot brought home a Swiss army knife and gave it to her 9-year-old son, Rory, so he could learn how to use it. She also let him walk alone to a friend’s house three blocks away, across streets without stop signs.

Molomot, a 42-year-old local filmmaker, explained that, “you learn something you didn’t know before” after finishing a project like School’s Out: Lessons from a Forest Kindergarten, a new documentary that follows an alternative kindergarten in Switzerland and a traditional kindergarten in New Haven’s Westville neighborhood over the 2011-2012 academic year.

In her own words, Molomot learned to “take appropriate risks” after watching the young Swiss students wield knifes, matches, and lumber in the wilderness.

Her producer, 42-year-old Rona Richter, also admitted to “giving [her children] a little more independence” once she saw what the Swiss 4- to 7-year-olds were allowed to do.

The documentary is Molomot’s and Richter’s first joint undertaking. It contrasts a two-year, outdoor kindergarten in Switzerland and a typical kindergarten classroom at New Haven’s Edgewood School.

Molomot has shot documentaries for nearly a decade. Richter has managed the Hugo Kauder Society, a New Haven-based, not-for-profit, classical music group since 2007. The duo met when their sons, who both attend New Haven schools, became friends. They began talking about the forest school, located in the Swiss village where Richter was born.

“I like that moment when I see New Haven on the screen,” said Richter, who currently resides in East Rock. New Haveners supported the project through Indiegogo, an online crowdfunding platform.

After two years of work split between Edgewood and the public school in Langnau am Albis, a suburb of Zurich, the two-woman team has racked up two awards with the documentary and earned spots in five film festivals, including the upcoming fifth annual EFFY Environmental Film Festival at Yale — their New Haven debut. Following a free and open to the public screening of the film on Saturday April 13, Molomot will answer questions from the audience.

Throughout the film parents, early education experts, and alumni of the forest school share concerns and serendipities. In one interview, Zurich neuropediatrician Dr. Willy Krauthammer mentions a stark difference he witnessed in his patients’ mental well-being. “I haven’t seen kids which have hyperactivity disorder in the [forest] kindergarten,” said Dr. Krauthammer, “and I have seen a lot of kids with the hyperactivity disorder in the ordinary kindergarten.”

Parker Collins PhotoMolomot and Richter described their work as a conversation starter, a story that, for them, demonstrated how “playing outside is absolutely essential.” In June, the film will join a larger conversation as part of a conference titled “Nature Deficit Disorder” with the heads of the New York State Association of Independent Schools.

Click on the video at the top of a story to watch a trailer for the film.

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posted by: HewNaven on March 27, 2013  1:30pm

Yes! I have no empirical data to back this up, but I’m pretty certain that many, if not all, of our psychological disorders stem from one original divide, between human being and nature. If we can find ways to restore that relationship, and this outdoor classroom is definitely a viable method, then we have a much better chance of prospering on this planet.

posted by: kcgalo on March 27, 2013  1:50pm

I first heard of forest kindergarten from a German teacher when I was teaching preschool in Istanbul. I was fascinated by it then; it would be so great to see a documentary looking at forest kindergarten and a New Haven preschool together. Even if the idea of forest kindergarten is implemented a couple of days a month, it seems to provide great value. How fun to do math and work on fine motor skills in the great outdoors! The same German teacher who first exposed me to the idea of forest kindergarten also had this as a mantra: “There’s no such thing as inclement weather, so long as you are dressed appropriately!”

posted by: mirad on March 27, 2013  4:25pm

Lisa Molomot’s film is especially important given that many New Haven students currently have no recess despite a state mandate that children must have 20 minutes of physical activity a day.  The New Haven Parents group is asking the city to create a “Recess for All” policy.  To support this initiative, you can sign the petition https://www.change.org/petitions/city-of-new-haven-board-of-education-implement-a-district-wide-recess-for-all-policy-for-nhps-kids-by-fall-2013

posted by: NHPLEB on March 28, 2013  5:41am

We could learn a lot from European school systems but will we?  Not with the same deadwood at the top; nor with the corporate model that is fast destroying what is left of education and even childhood,

posted by: formerNhresident on March 28, 2013  9:34am

20/20 aired a special on Cedarsong Nature Forest Kindergarten on Vashon Island, Wash back in 2011.