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.”
Molomot 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.