Among the many programs at UW Botanic Gardens, the Fiddleheads Forest School stands out as a unique program for the youngest learners. With the Washington Park Arboretum as its classroom, the outdoor preschool program offers students the opportunity to explore the natural world, learn from experimenting, and practice stewardship of the environment.
Fiddleheads Director and Co-Founder Sarah Heller spent a week in Trondheim, Norway in September 2018. Through an exchange with Queen Maud University of Early Childhood Education, two University of Washington students completed a practicum in Norway this fall while two Norwegian students experienced a similar program at the University of Washington. Additionally, four Queen Maud students will be coming to study at University of Washington and observe Fiddleheads classrooms in January 2019. Queen Maud University supports students studying abroad to increase cultural understanding. During Heller’s visit, she had the opportunity to observe Norwegian education practices and talk with teachers about their philosophy and teaching methods.
Trondheim is a coastal city with beaches, hills, forests, fjords, and cliff rocks. With a historic city center, and surrounded by natural beauty, the city is an ideal place to learn about outdoor education.
Heller found that Norwegian schools honor childhood, and the natural world is woven in to education. The pace of learning is slower than in the U.S. with fewer transitions for students. Norwegian students spend hours outside – each child brings a complete set of outdoor gear and the expectation is that much of learning and playing will be outdoors.
In her discussions with teachers, Heller learned that parents have a different approach to school and learning in Norway from their American counterparts. Norwegian parents are not afraid of kids taking risks, getting hurt or lost. They expect that their child will be out exploring the world. In the U.S., the pervasive culture of fear limits what educators can do with students.
Heller says the trip to Norway will influence how Fiddleheads approaches professional development. Staff will look at the intentions behind the way they do things, honoring childhood, and continuing to maximize time spent outdoors.