I know that I learn WAY more from observing for one day than spending 4 months reading about how forest schools are run. It was SO GOOD to be hosted at these forest schools in Germany, and to see how they operate.
The first forest school I visited was called Natur Gruppe Elb Kinder. This program has been running for 7 years. They meet in a park in Altona - a section of the city of Hamburg. The program is for children ages 3-5, and it is part of the regular, public school system. Parents can opt to have their children attend an outdoor waldkinder program, or an indoor kindergarten one. The government provides every family with 5 hours of kindergarten programming for "free", and families can choose to pay for more before or after care.
My nephew was thrilled to show me around the base camp, translating for me when necessary (which was quite often).
For almost the entire time, the leaders definitely employ a "hands off" approach. Play emerges from the children. The leader led the morning circle time (about 5 minutes long), and led a song before they ate their lunch. They told the group when it was time to move back to base camp from their playspace. But other than that, they were present to help when needed, but not initiate or direct the play. The children seemed very content - I didn't notice any fighting or tattling that whole day. There was a grumpy dog at one point, but that was the only glimpse of conflict that I could spy.
When talking with the leaders, it seems like each one brings their own strength that they share with the children. One of them studies fine art, so she often brings out paper and other art materials for them to use at picnic table at base camp. Another enjoys helping children build their strength, so he makes structures out of wood that the children can climb and balance on. He also rigs up swings in the woods using large ropes. Another leader enjoys drama and storytelling, so she brings these skills to her teaching.
In all, it seems like a wonderful way to experience kindergarten - play-based, social, and outdoors. Children are healthy and happy. There doesn't seem to be a push to make sure certain curriculum expectations are "covered" in the kindergarten years; play is the most important skill to learn, it seems.
I'm very thankful for the experience to spend time with my nephew at his forest kindergarten. Danke, S! :)