Table of Contents
- Child-Led Pedagogy
- A Positive Environment
- Immersion in the English Language
- Nature as Learning Environment
- Role of the Learning Companions
- Eco-Pedagogical Principles
- Culture of Connection, Appreciation, and Gratitude
- Conflict Management Skills
- Fundamental School Rules
- Performance Assessment
- Child Protection
- Daily and Weekly Schedule
- Environmental Education
- Children can best obtain and practice life skills within a community of adults that provides a framework, carries, and protects. Children experience values and culture in such a community and receive support for developing their own values and mindsets.
- We view children as partners in the process of living and learning and treat them with respect.
- From the beginning of their time at the Nature School, the children bear a great amount of responsibility for themselves, for their learning achievements, and for the system as a whole.
- Learning takes place without pressure, with joy and motivation and through independent learning in modules, in projects, and through free play, alone, with friends, in self-selected as well as predetermined groups, and in one-on-one situations with mentors.
- Within a set framework, the children – in consultation with their learning companions – decide on their daily and weekly learning material. They create significant portions of their learning experiences themselves.
- In our pedagogical work, we put a great emphasis on process-oriented learning: The quality of the process and the insights gained are more important than the result. Based on the principle “the journey is the reward,” mistakes are not only permitted but desired in order to achieve a sustainable learning success. Being allowed to make mistakes means developing curiosity and courage to try something new.
- At our school, all people of all ages learn with and from one another. The children work on new learning material on their own, with the help of other students, with qualified members of the community or with the help of the learning companions. Collaboration and mutual assistance take the place of competition and rivalry.
- If the children have difficulty working through a topic or technique, they receive support from their learning companions. It is the task of the adults to help the children cross the “threshold” when they need this support.
- Within a framework of basic rules, the children develop their own rules of interaction and ensure adherence to these rules. To increasingly empower them in this regard, they receive a continuous and age-appropriate peacemaker education that will provide them with a wide range of communication techniques.
- All adults are aware of their responsibility, their status as role models, and their role within the overall school community and act with appropriate mindfulness, appreciation, and respect toward themselves and others. The peacemaker principles form the basis of daily interaction. Everyone is responsible for their own inner peace, knows of the power and meaning of good words, and strives for consensus.
- Children learn what they need later: to interact with others, to organize themselves, to get along in our society, and to shape their own life path.
- Life is fun, children learn that life is fun, that school is fun.
A Positive Environment
Our highest goal is to create a positive environment for children and adults so that they can be together peacefully and joyfully. Children should be able to develop at their own pace and from their own motivation and inner strength. They should be able to learn with joy and enthusiasm and obtain a variety of life skills. Children should enjoy going to school. Within an accepting, caring, appreciative, and free atmosphere, they can learn to take responsibility for themselves and others.
This requires learning companions who already live these virtues, who do their work peacefully, joyfully, and with gratitude. That is why we also want to create an attractive, connecting environment in our school for the learning companions.
Immersion in the English Language
A unique feature of our school is that the children have the opportunity to experience English as a second language in everyday life under the principle of immersion from the very beginning. For this purpose, we have learning companions who are native English speakers and who will communicate in their language with the children and also within the team (except for emergency situations). That way, the children experience and get to know both languages in daily interactions.
The younger the children, the easier it is for them to learn languages. The more languages are offered to children, the easier it is for them to discern and become familiar with the structure of languages and to become open to other languages. In this context, it is not vocabulary knowledge that is important, but sensitivity for the language. Experiencing multiple languages in everyday life further contributes to perceiving other cultures and world views as enriching. This avoids the creation of language learning inhibitions. In the context of increasing globalization, feeling home in more than one language opens new opportunities for children.
In addition to interacting with native English speakers, the children further immerse themselves in the language through English-language games, songs, and stories. At higher grade levels, we envision teaching one or more subject areas in both English and German. This will emphasize the genuine utility of language to a greater extent than in a pure foreign language teaching environment. It challenges the children to choose English as the working language in these areas more and more.
The special analysis of the DESI study (German English Student Performance International or Deutsch Englisch Schülerleistungen International) of 2006 shows: “Students in bilingual classes have a very significant advantage in all respects. In particular, their listening comprehension is almost twice as fast as those in other classes.” Wolfgang Biederstädt (School Principal and Consultant of the Cornelsen Publishing House) says: "The criticism that specialized knowledge and teacher-student relationship are neglected in bilingual classes because language takes up too much space is unfounded. There is a greater emphasis on comprehension; grammar and language accuracy in fact recede to the background because the principle ‘message before form’ applies in bilingual teaching.”
Nature as Learning Environment
Richard Louv did research on children who had no or only little contact with nature. As a result of his research, he coined the term “nature-deficit disorder,” which describes the worrisome effects that a lack of connection to nature and the increase in indoor activities have on societal systems. Louv sees education as a process of self-organization. The environment – consisting of space, things, adults, and nature – provides the preconditions for success. Without nature, children lose their creativity and are cheated of their joy of life. They may function, but they waste away. The correct diagnosis for the ailment of today’s children is not ADHD but the loss of nature experience. For a healthy development, children need a diverse, surprising, non-ready environment so that they can experience themselves and the world with five senses.
In the Nature School at the Brosepark, we want to make this sort of experience and learning space available to city children. On the basis of wilderness pedagogy, we want to provide the opportunity for a type of learning that is sustainable and applicable to many areas of life.
Wilderness pedagogy with a focus on connecting with nature is the rediscovery of one of the oldest and most natural forms of learning and teaching, which has been used since the beginning of humankind 20 million years ago by indigenous peoples, with some regional differences.
With simple means, children will be supported to get to know nature from different perspectives, to understand themselves as a part of nature, to feel connection, inner peace, love, and gratitude. In nature, it is easier for children and also adults to dispel fears and blockages, to practice perception and attention, to develop an understanding that all life is on an equal footing and connected to one another.
They perceive themselves as a part of nature's cycles. One will later only preserve that which one has come to know and love. Given the limitation of our natural resources, this fact receives a new societal and global dimension.
Every person develops their own image of the world through their experiences. This consciousness comes from acquired knowledge. Children learn according to the following principle:
I hear and I forget.
I see and I remember.
I do it and I understand.
Daily integration into nature allows children to experience it first-hand. They can "grasp" it using their heart, mind, and hands. Nature offers diverse possibilities of educating the senses. Handling different materials such as wood, grass, moss, and rocks stimulates the tactile system. The sight of trees allows the overstimulated eyes to relax. The ears learn to listen to soft sounds, far from big city noise. Moving outside in the fresh air in all weather conditions strengthens the immune system. The distances covered by the children multiple times a week not only allow them to satisfy their urge to move, but also help them assess their own strength and develop a sensitivity for their own boundaries. As a result, they are less likely to have accidents and are also more curious, grounded, and self-confident. Good muscle development prevents civilization infirmities. A positive perception of one‘s own body has significant effects on self-confidence. Children who accumulate little stress during the day by being in an environment with fewer stimuli and sufficient and free movement are more relaxed and emotionally stable.
Nature was our living space for millennia and provides everything we need for life. We want to give the children the opportunity to learn this old, almost lost knowledge, old crafts, the skills to survive in nature. We also want to give them the opportunity to connect with nature time and again and to forge a bond with all living things. We want to help them develop deep roots with their home, with old stories, songs, and games. Many children’s heads are filled these days with auto brands, labels, and soccer stars. We want to help children record not only short-lived information but also draw their attention to the world surrounding them, to the bird chirping on top of the neighbor’s house in the mornings, to the herbs at their feet, so that they become natives in their own country, in this world.
Because our school building is located in the city, we seek out green learning spaces with the children inside and outside of town.
One day each week, we go out into nature and spend the day outside with packed lunches, saws, whittling knifes, herb collection baskets, and a small camping mat. We practice tracking and bird language, gain knowledge about mammals and bionics, meet our tree friend and the Montagu’s harrier, practice stalking, and have a lot of fun with it all.
On two additional afternoons each week, we go out into nature in order to solidify what we have learned, to discover new things, and to engage in free play in nature.
In order to allow for learning close to nature, we will also set up spaces for green classrooms on our school property where there will be space for land art projects and where the children can learn cultural and technical problem-solving techniques.
Role of the Learning Companions
“Children do not yet know what matters in life. That is why responsible and highly competent adults are needed who do not have the misconception that they are educating the children. They would have to be seekers – searching for what is trying to come out of these children. If the learning companion is not able to form an emotional bond, no sustainable learning can take place.” (Gerald Hüther)
At our school, the educators, who are ordinarily called teachers, are referred to as learning companions because that is exactly what they are: learning companions for all learning processes; they treat children with respect and on an equal footing.
They need to be attentive to the children’s individual development processes and to the support needed by each individual child and the group as a whole. They need to observe closely and pay attention to emotional processes among the children so that those can be dealt with according to the principle “disruptions have priority” (Ruth Cohn) and will thus not become an obstacle to the children’s learning process.
From the learning companions, children need good feedback, a consistent reflection of their development and learning status, and the feeling of being accepted and cared for. The learning companions consistently communicate with the children about the questions: Who am I? Who do I want to become? How can I be the person who I want to be? What do I need for that? How do I learn?
Naturally, learning companions must care well for themselves and work on their inner peace, because only then are they able to be a good role model on a sustained basis. They reflect on themselves and on their pedagogical interactions on a daily basis and strive to have the mindset of a mentor. They seek out opportunities for further development within the team and with the children. Our learning companions design work processes and learning processes following the example of nature. They explore how best to shape a free space for children to discover and get to know themselves and learn about their own strengths and weaknesses.
Children become competent, responsible adults when they are not the sole designers of their environment but when they know – through age-appropriate guidance from the adults surrounding them – exactly where their place is within the whole. The learning companions fulfill this leadership role with mutual respect and love. Then children can develop not only toward freedom from something but also toward freedom itself.
Being a good, strong role model for children requires being authentic and feeling competent rather than overwhelmed. That is why learning companions acting authentically with the children is more important to us than any pedagogical method.
Our team uses the following eco-pedagogical principles as a foundation:
Encouraging perception and capacity for experience:
- with all the senses
- through direct experience
- being fully present in the here and now
Learning by doing:
- trying out and experimenting
- acquiring a diverse range of skill sets
- experience in creating reality
- simple, consistent principles
- tangible effects and feedback
- encouraging positive role models
- diverse and flexible ways of thinking
- linking various experiences
Giving impulses to question and reflect:
- recognizing and acknowledging needs
- recognizing and questioning values and habits
- giving space to dreams and visions
Participation and solidarity:
- encouragement through synergy effects
- valuing individuality and community
- participating in social change
Culture of Connection, Appreciation, and Gratitude
The psychologist Rick Hanson describes the origin of an often negative view of the world: "[The human] brain preferentially scans for, registers, stores, recalls, and reacts to unpleasant experiences; … it's like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones." For a long time, this was essential for survival. But today’s society – with its increasing isolation and diminishing regard for all forms of life – needs a clear counterweight of connective togetherness.
The couples’ psychologist John Gottman discovered that in successful interpersonal relationships a rate of 5:1 exists between the positive and the negative: only one criticism to five times appreciation, one time anger to five times joy. Against this background, we want to create a culture of mutual appreciation in our school community so that a greater emphasis is placed on the good. This can be accomplished very easily by feeling and expressing gratitude. The scientists McCullough and Emmons found out that many cultures around the world view gratitude as a key element. They showed in a study that a daily practice of expressing gratitude significantly increases contentment and the feeling of happiness in life.
We want to use this simple tool not only as a door opener for the children’s learning motivation but also to help them let appreciation and love for nature and people grow within themselves. In nature, we can find our inner peace, it becomes easier to listen to one another with open ears and hearts.
Conflict Management Skills
A precondition for this is the experience of self-efficacy and the certainty of being accepted in all moods and situations of conflict. With good guidance, conflicts can be viewed as an opportunity and differences can be viewed as possibilities. Most children develop a strong sense of justice with respect to themselves during their preschool years. Only toward the end of their preschool years do they typically begin to develop the ability to empathize with others and to reflect on their own interests against this background, as a significant step toward a change in perspective. This continues to be a significant development process for the child during the elementary school years and beyond.
To empower children in this regard, all children receive a peacemaking education. In various age-appropriate learning modules, they learn different methods of conflict resolution and continuously practice applying these methods.
Our conflict management with children, with parents as well as within the team is significantly influenced by:
- Jon Young (Peacemaker Principles)
- Sobonfu Somé (work of mourning)
- Marshall Rosenberg (non-violent communication)
- Paul Watzlawick (5 Axioms)
- Friedemann Schulz von Thun (four-sides model, inner team, active listening)
- Thomas Gordon (Gordon model)
- Ruth Cohn (disruptions have priority)
- Robert A. Emmons (role of gratitude in everyday life)
- Manitonquat Medicine Story (Circle Way, co-counseling)
For the children to learn about these communication structures, the learning companions must continuously practice these methods and be a role model to the children in applying the methods as appropriate in a given situation. The learning companions should also support the children’s own ideas for conflict resolution, which may seem unusual to adults at first sight. Conveying positive values and having natural, considerate interactions among the school community are important aspects of day-to-day interactions between children and adults.
Fundamental School Rules
For all its allowance for freedom and self-determination, the school has a few fundamental rules that provide a framework from which personal responsibility and a peaceful community can grow:
- No physical violence.
- No insults. If an insult does happen, a genuine apology or other reparation must occur.
- If I cannot resolve a conflict on my own, I will ask for help.
- Everything has its place and will be returned to where it was found after its use.
- My freedom ends where another person’s freedom begins.
- Agreements count and can only be changed by those who agreed to them.
- Everyone in the school community is responsible for the adherence to the rules. This means that everyone has the duty to get involved when rule violations occur.
Other rules will be context-specific, negotiable, and can be established and disposed by the children in the school conference and in the morning circle. This does not necessarily mean that the majority decides but that everyone will be heard and will strive for consensus if possible.
“Grades are greatly motivating when one gets almost the best grades, but if one gets bad grades, they do not motivate at all.” (Jesper Juul)
“In the brain, what you learn gets linked with what you feel when learning. If you get punished through bad grades, this leads to you not liking poems and math for example.” (Gerald Hüther)
It is difficult for people to reconcile self-perception and external perception. Conventional grading often results in feelings of injustice and leaves life-long marks. We want to counteract this. That is why the children at our school receive personal annual letters with descriptions of their performance and development. In addition, they receive regular feedback from the learning companions in one-on-one conversations and also together with the parents.
If a child needs a grade transcript for the transfer to a different school, such a transcript will of course be issued after consultation.
We want to be open in our school for children with special needs because they are in particular need of opportunities in life. We view and experience diversity as enriching and as an opportunity for everyone to change perspectives and grow beyond one’s own boundaries. We live and learn together and thereby provide opportunities for appreciating all children’s origins, interests, experiences, skills, and knowledge. For us, inclusiveness means engaging with ourselves and with others.
We ensure the children’s privacy in our school and protect them from sexual and other violations of personal boundaries. Our learning companions are familiar with the concept of “safe places” for children and are aware of their importance as perhaps the first place of refuge for children. They know how to handle cases of concern and are aware of the process for handling violations of personal boundaries.
The learning companions actively assume their responsibility as a person of trust within the framework of the grievance system. We ensure the functioning of this process through regular transparent communication and qualification within the team. Supplemental steps are internal and external support through an experienced expert in this area.
Daily and Weekly Schedule
Beginning at 7:30 AM, the children can arrive without rush, interact with one another or maybe already play a round of soccer. At 9:00 AM, the day starts for everyone with the morning circle where we greet the day together. We sing songs, tell stories, maybe read a book, and discuss the day. At 9:30 AM, the first learning period starts and every child can work on their weekly plan as discussed with their learning companions. This may involve the completion of a worksheet, playing an English-language card game with a friend, drawing self-designed dinosaur cards, going outside with a friend to rake leaves or getting help with the tricky step of doing math beyond the number 20. From 10:30 to 11:00 AM, it is time for a joint snack. Then the second learning period takes place until 11:50 AM. After a ten-minute break, the third learning period goes until 12:50 PM and ends with a farewell circle. After that, the children are hungry and it is time to eat lunch together in a circle outside and to spend some time lounging on the grass afterwards.
In the afternoon, starting at 2 PM, the children can choose from various offerings: they can go out into nature, go to the workshop, go to the Robin Hood Forest Kindergarten to mold with clay or go to the Brosepark to do archery. Or they “simply” play.
Questions are important for the process of learning. Asking lively questions requires a lively environment. On the weekly forest day, the children do not have their regular learning periods. Instead they meet outside in the morning and spend the day at different locations in nature. The children can choose from various modules in advance, for example building huts in the forest, preparing ointments, watching cranes, learning about poisonous plants, harvesting apples and pressing apple juice, acquiring scout knowledge, starting an ancestor fire without matches and tending it, and much more. The offerings depend on the time of year and the children’s ideas and wishes. It is important to us that enough unplanned time is left for roaming and wandering about so that curiosity can guide the children and their learning and development processes.
In order to lift their learning success to a new level, the children can present their work in the circle on Fridays and explain to the others what they did, why they did it, and which method was successful. One child may choose to make a poster for the bulletin board, another may describe their work in a lot of detail using words, and a third may want to just listen or daydream.
Environmental protection, environmental education, and education for sustainable development bear ever greater meaning. The school of course conveys and practices responsible handling of natural resources, for example, conserving energy, avoiding waste, separating garbage, recycling food waste through the organic waste bin, economical use of water and other natural resources, etc.
In project-based learning, the children learn how to make something useful from old things (from the cradle to the cradle), how our consumer behavior affects the population in other countries, and what children can do to promote social change.
To nourish the body, a conscious and healthy food intake is important, with high-quality organic food and healthy water. That is why an organic catering service delivers our food for lunch.