The concept of forest schools originated in Denmark in 1950. Children who attended Forest Kindergartens emerged with stronger social skills, higher self-esteem, and worked more effectively in group activities. The children were confident and behavioral problems were fewer. It soon became a permanent addition to Denmark’s early childhood curriculum. Not long after Denmark discovered the value of educating children outdoors, Sweden’s “Skogsmulle” concept was developed, a similar educational model that taught children about nature, water, mountains, and ecology. The outcomes were measurable and overwhelmingly positive, making nature and forest schools popular with teachers, children, and parents. The idea soon spread to other areas of Europe.
In my daily life, I have a rhythm that goes something like this: Wake up. Eat. Do some yoga. Work. Eat again. Work a bit more. Sleep. Repeat. There are some weeks where I am on autopilot, and miss the daily miracles and surprises. If my life becomes a rhythm of hour after hour, day after day, week after week of busyness like this, with no play and no time outdoors, I begin to lose perspective.
There are few places left in our area where we can find natural gems that are virtually unknown yet created for the public’s use and enjoyment. Michigan State University owned and operated Hidden Lake Gardens is just one of those spots in Southeast Michigan within a short and scenic forty-five-minute drive from Ann Arbor.
On the night before winter solstice in 2017, I was part of a small group that set out at dusk from the parking lot at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, carrying paper globes as we entered the adjacent woods on a footpath. Our guide, Ann Arbor artist and art teacher Cayla Samano, had distributed the lanterns beforehand. As darkness came down around us, the light-sensitive globes turned on, bright white orbs in the shadowy woods. Ice and snow crunched underfoot. We took our time, Cayla reminding us not to rush, asking us to slow our pace.