Developing Grit in Forest Kindergarten
I have been reading about "grit" in education. In a general sense it would be defined in education as "persevering through hardship and following a task through to the end." Since the attention span of a young child is limited I need to think about it in terms of what I have experienced their capacity to be over the years. Grit is not developed through projects in the young child, instead it emerges as a tolerance built up overtime in a more gradual manner.
Weather presents the most immediate and valuable gradient, constantly changing so that we have to adjust. Expectations are curbed but we still go out and eat our snack when it is 14 degrees. This is more than for the hardship of it, but for the question of can it be done with a smile and a sense of joy thrown in. I constantly experiment with this threshold because above all other forms of education, experiential learning for any age child has the most impact. We are fortunate in our program to be able to deliver experiential learning in a consistent manner, typically with a smile.
With the weather tolerances come the physical risks. More than one child over the course of the year has eventually walked the perimeter of the sandbox without the help of an adult hand, or eventually made it up the apple tree on their own. Even more difficult, gotten down the tree with no aid. Can they keep up with the big kids as they hike up the meadow, walk the sky bridge, or pull a sled with three friends in it across the yard? Can they haul a long buckthorn from Mossy Rock or slide on the pond even after banging a lip on the ice? So much action with very few band-aids.
We will ask the children to place mats, napkins, and cups at the snack table and then correct their mistakes if done improperly. The piece of wood one "can't" split will be worked on for a while till it is split. The child is in charge of stacking blocks, collecting ropes, etc. Folding of the silks is a big task for the young child, but they love the challenge. Finger knitting a rope, patience, waiting – these are traits in the realm of grit.
So where will this lead? It will lead to capacity for success. The dawning of interest in letters and numbers in a young child is one facet of development. All of the above examples expand the capacity for success in learning. The above examples are lighting the brain on fire! These experiences are creating a massive well for learning. When the child is ready to learn the "facts", and that's all letters and numbers are, the child will truly learn them. The deeper we let this well become the easier time they will have filling it. They will learn, and they will also understand - a true love of learning. So, I have a bit of a passion in this realm, a good thing to have as a teacher I suppose.