tudents in Marie Forst and Katie Pless’s North Hills Campus Pre-K class greet every Day Four of WT’s six-day cycle with an extra dose of enthusiasm. The reason? Forest Fours, a new Pre-K initiative being piloted this year. This half-day learning adventure inspires the children to examine their campus closely, find things they want to learn about, document discoveries, and deepen their learning with imagination and wonder.

Inspired by Forest Kindergartens in Scandinavia and Europe, in which preschool education occurs almost entirely outdoors, Forest Fours was designed to give students the space and time to acquire a wide range of skills. “Not only are they developing integral social skills as they navigate cooperative play,” explains Pless, “they are also practicing skills that will benefit academic pursuits in the classroom.”

While North’s seven-acre campus—replete with pond, nature trails, butterfly garden, and hoop house—is regularly, robustly woven into the learning of all North students, Pless says Forest Fours is different from everyday Pre-K life. “We spend almost the entire morning outside, rain or shine, providing students with an unstructured setting so that they can investigate and create at their will.”

With each student dressed for the weather and armed with Polaroid cameras and nature journals, the class troops into the forest. The children draw pictures of structures they build; games they invent; and ideas, natural objects, or specimens that capture their imaginations. They collect treasures like leaves and moss, and take photographs of larger items, which they carefully tape into their journal pages.

“Through these activities, students practice skills such as fine motor development, self-regulation, working memory, observation, categorization, and identification,” says Pless.

Forst, a certified Forest Kindergarten teacher, says Forest Fours increases the scope of Pre-K’s inquiry-based curriculum in which units of study are based on student interest.  Because students are more invested in the content, the material is more meaningful, which helps move knowledge into long-term memory.

Many topics are inspired by time spent outdoors: “The students studied birds after noticing the geese return to the pond and lay eggs,” notes Pless. “We’ve studied fungus after several days in the woods searching for mushrooms, lichen, and moss. We infuse the topic of study into everything that we do in our classroom so that learning unfolds naturally.”

Pless calls this “secret learning”—and says Forest Fours amplifies those opportunities through consistent immersion in the natural world in a way that “… just feels like playtime … It doesn’t get much better than that!”