A Healthy Childhood in the Rhythm of the Seasons

Each morning, when the dew is still on the grass and the ground emanates its earthy scent, 20 children gather in a clearing near the edge of the forest. As they arrive at the Naturkindergarten Oberrieden, the 3- to 6-year-olds are warmly welcomed by their teachers. Together they then begin another experience-rich day in the woods.

Located on a hilltop between ravines and streams, the kindergarten’s location near the outskirts of town offers countless opportunities for self-directed play, learning, and discovery. For up to six hours a day, the children in the group can test their motor skills, discover the wonders of the forest, test their personal limits, and develop freely according to their own developmental tempo. Natural materials and almost unlimited freedom for movement and physical play encourage creativity and fantasy in a social group. “The children explore their environment with their hearts, hands, and minds, they strengthen their self-confidence, and they develop – almost as a side-effect – sensitivity for the natural world and the environment,” says Svenja Marchand, an educator and ethnologist who founded the organization in 2018 together with her husband, Michael Schiwon. Schiwon already had experience in experiential and nature-based education, as well as fond memories of his own nature-focused childhood in Hesse. The newly founded kindergarten presents an alternative to the existing facilities for early childhood education in the area and lays a foundation for a close relationship with the area and its natural environment. But it’s not only the educators who feel a close sense of connection to the project and its aims – the families of the children do, as well. Even before the school opened in August 2020, many of the children’s families were closely involved in its construction. As a result, the organization was able to perform much of the building construction on its own, while simultaneously ensuring the development of a close community of cooperative parents and caregivers.

The Software AG – Foundation (SAGST), based in Darmstadt, provided financial support for the development of the 1,300 m2 site. SAGST project manager Elke Rahmann confirms: “Extensive time playing in nature strengthens children in their holistic development. Here, boys and girls can experience the world with all of their senses and put down roots in their local environment.”