The Europeans’ love for the outdoors
This post was partly inspired by fellow blogger brit’s post on spending time outdoors with kids and partly by my boys’ preschool schedule of activities. Springtime is expected to be here soon and according to their schedule, lots of time will be spent going to the forest, hiking, and exploring nature’s seasonal changes. And with this additional comment: All outdoor activities will take place rain or shine so dress up your kids appropriately.
After almost 20 years in western Europe, I still can’t get over the fact that people here like to go outdoors, regardless of the weather. Coming from tropical Asia, I used to be cold- and wet-weather shy. Since I got married to a European, I’ve learned that there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong gear.
What I find amazing (and great) is the fact that children here are encouraged to do the same. My boys’ preschool is situated in the middle of the city of Zurich, Switzerland, on the 2nd and 3rd floor of an office building. The school doesn’t have a yard, a garden or a playground. When we checked out the school before moving here 2 and a half years ago, the teachers assured us that they go out everyday to different playgrounds in the area. My husband and I took their word for it, knowing the Europeans’ affinity for the outdoors and we weren’t disappointed. The classes go out regularly on class trips to zoos, animal parks, forests, made possible by Zurich’s wonderful public transport – at no extra expense to the parents. Only under extreme weather conditions such as snow- and thunderstorms that outdoor activities are canceled. During those trips, they learn a lot of things, mainly to respect nature. They can touch and draw snails and other sedentary beings but not hurt them. They learn to take home their own rubbish. And they learn to put out the fire before leaving the camping area.
I have already observed this close connection with the outdoors when we were still living in Germany. Starting at 18 months, children could join a playgroup ran by the local mothers’ club. The kids were allowed to play outdoors in a fenced-off public playground for 3 hours, 2 mornings a week. Moms took turns to be on duty to watch the kids. There were usually 3 moms watching 15 kids and watch duty happened at most once a month. This was a great help for all moms who could go shopping, go to the hairdressers, etc. I made use of my free hours by going on jogging runs. Again the play dates were for the whole year, rain or shine and the only shelter the kids had was a shed where toys and a portable toilet and a changing table were stored. When I suggested to a friend from another continent living in Germany at that time to sign up her kids, she was horrified. Maybe it’s a cultural thing
She would have been more horrified if I had told her about Waldkindergarten (translated as forest kindergarten) which exists not only in Germany and Switzerland, but in some other European countries as well. Basically it is what the name suggests: a kindergarten in the forest. The classroom is the woods, with perhaps a hut or a boxcar container as shelter in case it gets too wet. Although my husband and I liked the idea, we decided that our kids should receive some real classroom experience as well, thus our choice of preschool.
But we do not leave the outdoor activities to the preschool alone. We reinforce them as part of family activities. We had out first springtime family walk last Saturday. It lasted for 3.5 hours over creeks, hills, and through forests and even patches of snow left over from the winter. What better – and cheaper – way to spend the first sunny day of March with the whole family?