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儿童VS大自然

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Each weekday, come rain or shine, a group of children, ages 3 to 6, walk into a forest outside Frankfurt to sing songs, build fires and roll in the mud. To relax, they kick back in a giant 'sofa' made of tree stumps and twigs.

The birthplace of kindergarten is returning to its roots. While schools and parents elsewhere push young children to read, write and surf the Internet earlier in order to prepare for an increasingly cutthroat global economy, some little Germans are taking a less traveled path -- deep into the woods.

Germany has about 700 Waldkindergarten, or 'forest kindergartens,' in which children spend their days outdoors year-round. Blackboards surrender to the Black Forest. Erasers give way to pine cones. Hall passes aren't required, but bug repellent is a good idea.

Trees are a temptation -- and sometimes worse. Recently, 'I had to rescue a girl' who had climbed too high, says Margit Kluge, a teacher at Idstein's forest kindergarten. Last year, a big tree 'fell right before our noses.'

The schools are a throwback to Friedrich Froebel, the German educator who opened the world's first kindergarten, or 'children's garden,' more than 150 years ago. Mr. Froebel counseled that young children should play in nature, cordoned off from too many numbers and letters.

They are also a modern-day snapshot of environmentally conscious and consumption-wary Germany, where the Green Party polls more than 10% and stores are closed on Sundays.

Only a fraction of German children attend Waldkindergarten, but their numbers have been rising since local parent groups began setting up these programs in the mid-1990s, following the lead of a Danish community. Similar schools exist in smaller numbers in Scandinavia, Switzerland and Austria. The concept is sparking interest far afield -- even in the U.S., whose first Waldkindergarten opened in Portland, Ore., last fall.

'The computer arrives early enough,' adds Norbert Huppertz, a specialist in child development at the Freiburg University of Education and a Waldkindergarten booster in Germany.

Academic studies of such schools are in their infancy. Some European researchers believe Waldkindergarten kids exercise their imaginations more than their brick-and-mortar peers do and are better at concentrating and communicating. Despite dangers, from insects particularly, the children appear to get sick less often in these fresh-air settings. Studies also suggest their writing skills are less developed, though, and that they are less adept than other children at distinguishing colors, forms and sizes.

In the rolling countryside of Idstein on a recent rainy morning, parents dropped off their children at a muddy parking lot a bit after 8 as the temperature hovered around 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Some of the children, wrapped in thick winter clothing, stooped over to inspect a worm. Then the five girls and four boys trudged into the neighboring woods with their two teachers before pausing to hold hands in a circle. 'Good morning, sun, even though we can't see you today,' said the 51-year-old Ms. Kluge, as the children joined in song and then acted out a play involving rabbits.

They hiked a few hundred feet into the forest before settling down to jump in puddles, examine a hibernating lizard and paint Easter eggs. A girl named Maxi went off to whittle a branch with a hunting knife. Another made 'chocolate-vanilla-strawberry-herbal pudding' by stirring mud with a twig.

At snack time, the children sat on logs and munched on carrots and nuts while Ms. Kluge told them about the life cycle of toads. A boy named Ben wanted to know whether a North American visitor accompanying them was 'a cowboy or an Indian.' A bit before 1 p.m., after jumping in more puddles, playing around a makeshift tepee and singing another song involving the Easter bunny, the children emerged from the woods grinning and caked in mud to be picked up by their waiting parents.

'It's peaceful here, not like inside a room,' said Ms. Kluge, who has headed the Waldkindergarten since it opened five years ago.

The children rarely venture into a trailer in the forest that's used as a shelter in extreme weather. Ms. Kluge says no child has ever asked for a toy. The children improvise instead with what the woods have to offer. And there haven't been any bad accidents beyond the occasional scrapes and bruises.

Not everyone has a feel-good experience. Frankfurt resident Donna Parssinen sent her son to a Waldkindergarten last year but says he got Lyme disease from ticks. It resulted in meningitis that temporarily paralyzed half his face. 'I still like the idea' of Waldkindergarten, says Ms. Parssinen, 'but once is enough.' Her son now attends a four-walled kindergarten.

Still, many German indoor kindergartens take children to nearby forests once a week to tramp around. A spokesman for Germany's Ministry for Family Affairs said it welcomes the arrival of Waldkindergarten, which typically receive local government subsidies similar to those of state-run kindergartens.

Iwao Uehara, a professor at Tokyo University of Agriculture, says he has been trying to set up such a school in Japan, but the project is struggling. Until there's evidence that Waldkindergarten graduates end up attending 'famous universities,' it's going to be a tough sell, he says.

In Portland, though, Marsha Johnson launched Mother Earth kindergarten last fall to combat what she calls 'early academic fatigue syndrome . . . . We have 5-year-olds who are tired of going to school.' The 14 children spend four hours a day at the privately run school playing in a state park forest.

Among the nature-based activities, children learn how to handle a real saw. 'A plastic saw is no good,' says Ms. Johnson. 'You might as well give them a plastic life.' The worst that has happened thus far to the children is the occasional bee sting, she says.

Mimi Howard, a director at the Education Commission of the States, which advises states on policy from Denver, says some U.S. teachers feel pressure 'to push academics earlier and earlier.' The federal No Child Left Behind law introduced standardized testing for reading and writing by third grade, but some studies recommend more 'open-ended learning experiences' for young children. 'We're in the debate phase,' she says.

In Fife, Scotland, Cathy Bache recently took matters into her own hands and founded a private nursery school. About 20 children explore the local forests, 'saw logs, make fires when cold and look at fungi,' she explains. Ms. Bache admits the children fall out of trees 'quite often' -- but that she doesn't let them climb higher than 6 feet, the cutoff point for her insurance policy.

平日里,无论是阳光灿烂还是细雨蒙蒙,在法兰克福都会有一群3到6岁的幼儿园小孩走进郊外的一片森林,在那里唱歌、燃起篝火,或者在泥地里打滚。想休憩一下的时候,他们就会躺到由树桩和树枝做成的一个巨大“沙发”里。

幼儿园的诞生地正在走上返朴归真的道路。虽然其它地方的学校和家长都在敦促孩子们尽早地读书、写字、接触互联网,以准备好应对全球经济日益激烈的竞争,但德国的儿童们却在另辟蹊径──投入大自然的怀抱。

德国有大约700家“森林幼儿园”,在这里,孩子们可以整日在户外活动。黑板不见了,取而代之的是葱郁的黑森林。橡皮擦则让路给了松球。这里不需要从老师那里拿到通行证才能离开教室,不过带上驱虫剂倒是个好主意。

孩子们被森林深深吸引,但有时也会因此出现一些小状况。Idstein森林幼儿园的老师玛格丽特•克鲁格(Margit Kluge)说,前不久,我还从树上救下了一个小女孩,她爬得太高了。去年有一次,“我们眼睁睁地看着一颗大树倒在眼前”。

森林幼儿园的兴起是对德国教育家弗里德里希•福禄贝尔(Friedrich Froebel)的教育主张的回归。150多年前,福禄贝尔创办了世界上第一所幼儿园,他一向主张,孩子们应该在大自然中玩耍,而不应接受过多有关数字和字母的练习。

森林幼儿园也是环保和消费意识极强的德国现代社会的写照。在德国,绿党已经赢得10%以上的选票,而且商店周日通常不营业。

目前,仅有一小部分德国儿童在森林幼儿园就学,不过人数一直在稳步攀升。上个世纪丹麦的一个社区最先创立了一所森林幼儿园,随后在90年代中期德国当地家长团体也开始设立此类项目。在斯堪的纳维亚、瑞士和奥地利也有类似的学校,但是为数较少。森林幼儿园的理念甚至引起了远在大洋彼岸的美国的浓厚兴趣,去年秋天,俄勒冈州波特兰市成立了美国第一所森林幼儿园。

诺伯特•乎朋兹(Norbert Huppertz)补充说,森林幼儿园也会适时地引入电脑。诺伯特是Freiburg University of Education的儿童发展问题专家,也是德国森林幼儿园的倡导者之一。

对于森林幼儿园的学术研究还在起步阶段。一些欧洲研究者认为,比起呆在屋子里的儿童而言,森林幼儿园的孩子们运用想象力要更多一些,而且他们在集中精力和沟通方面也做得更好。虽然在森林里会面临危险,尤其是来自各种昆虫的袭扰,但是孩子们在空气新鲜的环境里生病的几率似乎更小。不过,研究也显示,他们的书写技能比较薄弱,在识别颜色、形状和大小方面也不够熟练。

不久前一个下雨的早晨,8点刚过,在Idstein地势起伏的郊区,家长们开车载着他们的孩子到了一个泥泞的停车场。当时的温度只有华氏40度。

一些孩子裹着厚厚的冬装,他们蹲下身子,对着一只蠕虫看得津津有味。过了一会儿,在两位老师的带领下,五个女孩和四个男孩迈着吃力的步伐走进附近的森林,然后停了下来,手拉手围成一个圆圈。51岁的克鲁格女士说,“早上好啊,太阳,虽然我们今天看不到你。”这时候,孩子们开始唱歌,然后玩一个兔子游戏。

接着,他们又往森林深处走了几百英尺才停顿下来。孩子们尽情嬉戏,有的甚至跳进了水坑玩闹,有的在观察冬眠的蜥蜴,有的开始画复活节彩蛋。一个名叫马克西(Maxi)的女孩走到一边,拿着一把猎刀削起树枝来。另外一个孩子则用一根树梢搅和地上的泥浆,作出一块“巧克力-香草-草莓-草药布丁”。

点心时间到了,孩子们坐在原木上,嘴里大嚼着胡萝卜和坚果,这时候克鲁格女士开始给他们讲述蟾蜍的生命周期。一位叫本(Ben)的孩子想知道,跟他们一起的一位北美访客是“西部牛仔还是印第安人”。随后,孩子们又开始跳进了水坑玩闹,围着一个临时搭起来的圆锥形帐篷嬉戏起来,还唱了一首复活节兔子的儿歌。下午1点不到,孩子们结伴走出从森林,个个裂着嘴开心地笑着,身上沾满了泥泞,迎向外面正在等待他们的父母。

五年前森林幼儿园成立以来一直负责Idstein森林幼儿园的克鲁格女士说,森林里非常安宁,不像是在课堂上。

即便天气不好,也很少有孩子躲到森林里的拖车里去,那是用来作为极端天气的庇护所的。克鲁格女士说,没有孩子要过玩具。森林里有什么,他们就玩什么。而且在整个旅途中,除了偶尔的擦伤和淤青之外,也没有发生严重的事故。

并不是所有人都觉得森林幼儿园好。去年,法兰克福居民唐娜•帕斯内(Donna Parssinen)把儿子送到了一家森林幼儿园,但是据她说,儿子因为沾染虱类患上了莱姆关节炎,后来又导致脑膜炎,一度让他半张脸都瘫痪了。帕斯内女士说,我觉得森林幼儿园这个主意不错,但是,“有一次就够了。”现在她儿子上了一家室内幼儿园。

尽管如此,德国许多室内幼儿园每周都会带领孩子们去附近的森林里旅行一次。德国家庭事务部(Germany's Ministry for Family Affairs)的一位发言人表示,政府欢迎森林幼儿园,他们通常能与国有幼儿园得到差不多的地方政府补贴。

东京农业大学(Tokyo University of Agriculture)教授Iwao Uehara说,他一直尝试在日本也开设一家森林幼儿园,但是这个项目一直举步维艰。他说,除非有证据显示森林幼儿园的孩子们最后都能考上“名牌大学”,否则很难有人买帐。

不过,在波特兰,玛莎•约翰逊(Marsha Johnson)去年秋天创办了Mother Earth幼儿园,她说,就是要以此跟“早期厌学综合症”做斗争。约翰逊女士表示,我们有很多不喜欢上学的学龄儿童。Mother Earth是一家私人运营的幼儿园,目前有14名儿童,他们每天有4个小时是在州立公园的森林里度过的。

在Mother Earth的各种面向大自然的活动中,孩子们需要学习如何使用一把真正的锯子。约翰逊女士说,给他们塑料锯子一点好处都没有。“你倒不如给他们一个富有创造力的人生。”她说,到目前为止,最糟糕的情形也就是孩子们偶尔会被刺痛一下。

米米•霍华德(Mimi Howard)是国家教育委员会(Education Commission of the States)主任,该委员会负责为政府提供政策建议。霍华德女士说,美国的一些老师备受压力,不得不将学前教育的时间提前得越来越早。联邦政府的No Child Left Behind法案推出了小学三年级读写标准化考试,但同时也有一些研究建议,应当赋予孩子们更为“开放的学习体验。”霍华德女士说,“我们还处在辩论阶段。”.

而在苏格兰的Fife,凯西•巴克(Cathy Bache)最近自立门户,创办了一家私立幼儿园,园里的20几名儿童经常去当地的森林探险。巴克女士解释说,在那里,孩子们看见了原木,学习如何在寒冷的时候生火取暖,还观察了各种真菌。她承认,孩子们从树上掉下来是常有的事,不过,她不允许他们爬到6英尺以上的地方──这是她为孩子们购买的保险单上规定的最大高度。
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