Take a peek inside our forest school with this episode produced by the Seattle Channel:
Fiddleheads Forest School believes in supporting the growth of the whole child through attention to their social and emotional development, self-regulation and physical development.
Philosophy: Children are intrinsically motivated to learn, and they do so by exploring the world around them. At Fiddleheads Forest School, we aim to foster a sense of wonder, to guide rather than compel, and to provide room for possibility rather than attempt to constrain children’s interests to fit within a certain curriculum. Our goal is to create an ideal setting for students to grow into citizens of the world; having a respect for all cultures and environments and a desire to engage with their communities. We maintain high academic standards through the development of a unique individualized curriculum that not only provides children with the skills they need to be prepared for kindergarten, but the ability to regulate themselves, and navigate interactions and friendships with others.
When children leave Fiddleheads Forest School to enter their next phase they can…
Participate as a member of an interdependent community
Care for themselves and those around them
Realize and express their own needs in a clear way
Cooperate with other children to accomplish group goals
Understand the expectations of others in a given setting
Express many human emotions in language and art
Be inquisitive and make connections
Initiate new ideas and invent solutions to problems
Stick at difficult tasks or come back to them later in order to succeed.
Run, catch, throw, kick and tumble
Laugh and play with a sense of joy.
Paint, draw, sculpt, and construct objects of beauty
Care for common spaces and materials to maintain cleanliness and order.
Act in stewardship for the environment and one’s own health and well being.
Commitment to Equity and Cultural Responsiveness
Children develop an identity and an awareness of themselves and their relation to one- another in the context of their environment. At Fiddleheads, we strive to create a classroom setting that celebrates and supports our diverse community of families. We believe that high- quality early childhood education must take into account the greater context in which we operate; environmentally, historically, socially, and culturally. We respect the divergent needs, experiences, and learning styles of our students and work to embody them in our approach. We are deeply committed to honoring and valuing equity and diversity in our policy and practice.
As a school, we are dedicated to social justice, racial justice, and environmental justice. Our goal is to provide an inclusive classroom environment that is accessible to all children and that embodies anti-bias, anti-racism, and multicultural learning. As teachers, we actively identify and counter stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination, and we educate and empower our students to do the same. We teach children to notice and appreciate their similarities and differences, to take pride in themselves and their identity, and to develop respect and understanding for one-another. We provide our young learners with tools to negotiate conflict and differences of opinion peacefully and thoughtfully.
The diverse family, cultural, and religious experiences and traditions of our community are incredibly important to us. We invite all families to share their culture and traditions at school, and to help us to continue to refine our approach. If at any time you are not comfortable allowing your child to participate in these shared cultural or religious activities, or you feel that your experiences are not being reflected in our practice, please let us know. Our goal is to develop a program that is responsive and respectful of your family. We recognize that this work does not have an endpoint, and requires continuing critical self-reflection and education. Our goal is for Fiddleheads to continue to grow and change in response to our community. We always welcome your input and feedback.
Fiddleheads has two classroom sites located among the native trees and shrubs at the Washington Park Arboretum. At Fiddleheads, students spend the morning exploring and engaging in a multitude of ways. For example, on a given morning you might encounter:
Children gathered at the peace table to discuss what “zone” they are in, examine emotions cards, or use the peace rose to resolve a conflict independently.
A mixed age group heading down to the dome shelter deeply engaged in imaginative play; the dome has transformed into a den, and they are a family of wolves, bringing food home to their pups.
A young girl hunched over a magnifying glass under a big leaf maple tree examining a jelly fungus she’s discovered.
Children and teachers following the sound of alarming crows to discover a young Cooper’s hawk or owl in the branches of a Douglas Fir Tree. Later, the students will process the morning’s lessons by incorporating the experience into their own play or recording it in a waterproof nature journal.
A circle time spent discussing the morning’s activities and integrating them into whatever we are studying at the time—whether that means connecting them to a social thinking concept like whole body listening or to a natural science unit on raptors. On chilly days the children prepare cedar tea to sip as they sing songs about lichen, count the days of the month or the days of the year, and reflect on the experiences they’ve had as a group.
An adventure out into the arboretum. There is an incredible wealth of wildlife here, and at Fiddleheads we take advantage of all it has to offer. The children know that the forest grove may be their classroom, but the Arboretum is their school, and on a given morning, anything is possible.
Self-Regulation in the Forest
At Fiddleheads we root the learning experience in a strong foundation of self-regulation skills. Self-regulation is the motor that drive all learning on a biological, emotional, cognitive, and social level. We agree with what lead educators and researchers already contend: that self-regulation has the potential to impact the life trajectory of children more than any other single aspect of their development.
To aid in this process we utilize a combination of unique and modified curriculum (including The Zones of Regulation® and We Thinkers®) with the intent of cultivating self-regulation, executive functioning skills, and the sort of social and emotional competency that fosters lifelong learners.
Interested in Learning More? Check out the following resources!
Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School, A report from the Alliance for Childhood” by Edward Miller, Joan Almon
Sarah is the founding director of Fiddleheads Forest School and has been involved with the UW Botanic Gardens for over eight years, growing and building nature-based education programs. She holds a Master’s in Science Education, a Certificate in Early Childhood Leadership from UW, and a Forest Kindergarten Teaching Certificate from Cedarsong. Sarah is deeply committed to connecting families with the Arboretum and creating opportunities for kids to learn and grow in nature. As director, she takes pride in her work supporting the teachers and classes, connecting with families and managing the administration and operations for the school. In her free time, Sarah loves to hike, camp and travel with her two kids and husband. She is immensely honored by the opportunity to work with the dynamic, growing community here at Fiddleheads.
Jenn Leibham – Lead Teacher (Trillium Class and Cedar Class)
Jenn is an early childhood educator who has been teaching preschool in a variety of nature-based classroom settings over the past 5 years, including Schlitz Audubon Nature Preschool in Milwaukee and Tiny Trees Preschool in Seattle. She is a born naturalist with a true passion for connecting children to nature and supporting their development. Her journey as an educator has led her to amazing people, inspiring places, and a deepening sense of self throughout it all. In addition to teaching preschool, Jenn is passionate about training young adults on how to connect their communities with nature. She has provided professional development to nature-based teachers around the country through conferences and workshops and is deeply rooted in nature-preschool philosophy. Jenn has a special love of playing, and of spontaneity in teaching, as well as a particular joy of jumping in puddles!
Hana Bressler- Associate Teacher (Trillium Class and Maple Class)
Having lived most of her childhood in various countries outside the United States, Hana and her partner decided to settle down and make Seattle their home in 2008. She has since fallen in love with the Cascadia and as a dendrophile (tree enthusiast) is overjoyed to work at Fiddleheads, engaging kids with the forest. Besides her experience as a teacher at other preschools, her previous work as a midwife and a long-term nanny gave her appreciation for the diverse styles of families and a deep respect for a child’s unique path of development. Hana believes in the genius inside of each person and that the preschool-age is a special period where a child is exceptionally receptive to exploring empathy and philosophy. In her free time, Hana works as a publisher for a small press in poetry and illustrated fiction. She also loves to cook, paint, read, and find new places to ride her bicycle..
Sarah Chaviers – Lead Teacher (Magnolia Class and Maple Class)
Sarah Chaviers was born in North Carolina and has lived in various states with her family before moving to Washington when her dad retired from the army. She has lived in the Pacific Northwest for most of her life and attended the University of Washington where she earned her degree in cultural anthropology. She loves being in the outdoors whether hiking, playing in the snow, camping, having a picnic, or taking her dog to the park. After working in mixed age classrooms at the preschool level she went to school and obtained her Montessori certification. She comes to Fiddleheads with 10 years of experience working with various age groups in early childhood, 5 of which as a lead preschool teacher. Through her experience as a lead she has adapted her own teaching style to meet the values she finds most important when working with children such as getting them outside to learn through their environment and play. She highly values the learning and concentration that happens when manipulating the tools found in nature, creating games and learning from peers, and being immersed in the sounds of the outdoors. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to work with an experienced team of forest school teachers, teach in an environment that she believes in, and to be part of a community that also values the importance of the outdoors.
Jade Hoiby – Associate Teacher (Magnolia Class and Cedar Class)
Jade is a Japanese, Norwegian, and Alaskan Native woman who finds herself continuously overflowing with enthusiasm and joy. Having been born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Jade feels an ever-increasing affinity for her natural and cultural surroundings. Last spring, she became a first generation college graduate with a degree in cultural anthropology from the University of Washington. Jade is a farm-fresh food enthusiast and is constantly craving the outdoors. She finds that she is her best self when outside exploring, hiking, running, reading, practicing yoga, or best of all, supporting young learners’ sense of wonder! Jade is in love with the nature preschool movement and with the process of teaching young children in the incredibly dynamic learning environment provided by the forest groves, and is elated to have the opportunity to work with children and families at Fiddleheads.