In Petersburg, a new after school and summer program is giving kids the freedom to play in the outdoors on their own terms. Kinder Skog, which is Norwegian for kid forest, is in its first year, and enrolls about 20 children between the ages five and eight. You may have spotted them trooping around town recently on their way to the woods, muskegs, or beaches. Ari Snider tagged along with them for a morning and has this report.
On a hot, sunny day in late June, the Kinder Skog kids are taking a dip in the water to cool down. But they’re not swimming in a pool, or even a lake. The kids are jumping right into a muskeg pit.
If the shrieking is anything to go by, the water is still pretty cold. But most of the kids take the plunge anyway, and soon just about everyone is covered in mud.
This particular muskeg hole is maybe 50 yards from Haugen Drive, between the post office and the airport. The group goes somewhere different each day. Barb Steltz, the director of Good Beginnings preschool and co-founder of Kinder Skog, says they encourage the kids to make that decision for themselves.
“We encourage the kids to have a discussion and that’s one of the things we’re — we’ve come a long way with as well,” Steltz said. “Because instead of saying ‘I wanna go here’, ‘I wanna go there,’ ‘I like this place’, ‘No I don’t wanna do that!’ There’s more of a ‘Well, I was thinking maybe we could go here because of this reason’ and that’s what we’re working on.”
The ability, and responsibility, of making decisions and communicating in a group are central to Kinder Skog’s mission. Katie Holmlund, the other co-founder who is also a teacher at Good Beginnings, says it’s important for kids to have unstructured outdoor play time.
“I think there’s a lot of structure to these little kids’ days,” she said. “Which is great. But they also need to know that they can make a choice about what they’re doing, and where they’re going, and how they’re gonna interact with certain places with their bodies. I mean you see some fully submerged in mud pits, others that are more willing to just stand on the side and observe, and they need to know that they can make those choices.”
The day could have been a postcard for summer — sunny, 70 degrees, not a cloud in the sky. But the program runs year-round, whatever the weather. Gina Esposito, who’s son Nate is in the program, says she likes this approach.
“You know rain or shine I just love that Kinder Skog just like keeps them outside,” Esposito said. “It really helps them build up their stamina. It just was a really good fit for Nate and his energy.”
Holmlund, who’s son is also in the program, says she’s seen the kids become more confident.
“I’m really surprised by how much growth and confidence there’s been in the kids,” she said. “I knew it was gonna happen but I didn’t anticipate how much there would be.”
Steltz adds that many of the kids who were a little shy to begin with have started to voice their opinions, an important communication skill.
“Say we’re in a group and we’re and we’re talking about where we’d like to go and some of the kids who at first wouldn’t say anything I’ve seen their confidence really build and say ‘Well I’d like to go there because of that’ and their learning those skills about communicating,” Steltz said.
The kids, meanwhile, are not discussing interpersonal skills or their emotional development. Instead, they are completely focused on playing in the mud. And that might just be the most important lesson of all.
The upcoming school year session is full, but for more information about future openings and pricing, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.