Community Roots’ Outdoor Kindergarten Program was born out of necessity, in the early months of the COVID19 pandemic, when indoor classrooms were not an option. We began with the simple goal of providing our youngest students, and newest community members, in-person opportunities to build relationships and begin their school lives. After our first year, student growth and experience, family feedback, and staff observations convinced us that the outdoor setting was an invaluable addition to the kindergarten program.

• Guided by leading research from the fields of early childhood education, child development, environmental education and playwork, our program provides a year-long nature-based kindergarten experience for our 52 incoming students.

• Students spend approximately half of each week outdoors. Outdoor days begin in the Three Stars Garden and, in the afternoon, move to Fort Greene Park.

• Students develop a relationship with the living world through direct, physical interaction with it. We aim to inspire young children by providing them ample opportunities to discover, to wonder, and to struggle in a complex and dynamic learning environment

• Our outdoor program is guided by…
– The Philosophy of Community Roots Charter School
– The Common Core Kindergarten Learning Standards Best practices in nature-based education (NAAEE)

• Our approach is informed by the certainty that…
– Young people are curious, capable and competent learners.
– Developing a relationship with the living world is mutually beneficial. It supports the health and well-being of both our children and our natural environment.

• Children’s outdoor time is characterized by…
– Self-directed learning through play and exploration.
– Community building through shared experiences, collaboration and whole group reflection.
– Targeted instruction that supports academic development in reading, writing and math.


We strive to be outside as much as possible and we use a variety of strategies to both take advantage of the weather and to overcome the challenges that weather can present.  We approach these challenges as opportunities.

Tarps, boots, rain coats and rain pants keep us dry(er) when it rains.  Kids gather buckets of rain, knock collected water off of our tarp shelters, jump in puddles and revel in the tactile lushness of mud. They chop ice off the ground, freeze objects in ice blocks, and collect chunks of snow.

In winter, we discuss strategies for staying warm – vigorous activity, choosing a sunny location, drinking hot chocolate, adding layers and keeping our heads and hands covered. 

When necessary, we shorten or postpone our outside time.  Hazardous winds, arctic temperature, torrential rain:  There are reasons why animals build and seek shelter.  We celebrate opportunities to be cozy and safe – and, as a class, work to understand both how shelters are built and how buildings stay warm.

Community Roots recognizes that families come to our outdoor program with varying degrees of experience and comfort with the challenges and opportunities that being outside in all weather present.

  • Offers 3 season all weather clothing on a sliding scale (all families receive all weather clothing)basis.
  • Provides weekly weather updates and suggestions about how to dress your children.
  • Keeps Extra clothes onsite for any unexpected circumstances
  • Holds K Orientation and enrollment
  • Makes themselves available to answer questions and discuss issues

What is Nature-Based Education? (NATURAL START ALLIANCE)

Recognizing both the benefits of nature to education, and the benefits of education to nature, many early childhood education programs use nature and natural elements to enhance the curriculum and promote environmental stewardship. They might plant a garden or put up a bird feeder, for example, to offer more opportunities for children to experience nature as a part of the program.

A nature-based early childhood education program takes an immersive approach, putting nature at the heart of the program. In a nature-based early education program, nature is a setting for the program and an object of study. In addition, the care and protection of nature and the environment are regarded as a key outcome of the program, along with healthy child development. Some describe these nature-based early education programs as learning in nature, about nature, and for nature.

Why does Community Roots incorporate a nature-based outdoor program into our kindergarten year?

In recent years, research has become more and more definitive in supporting what people have known anecdotally for a long time: Individuals and communities are happier, healthier, and smarter when they spend time outdoors and surrounded by nature.

Six Ways Nature Helps Children by Ming Kuo is one of many articles that begins to summarize some of the benefits time in nature affords. Ming Kuo identifies six overarching benefits :

  • Nature restores children’s attention
  • Nature relieves children’s stress
  • Nature helps children develop more self-discipline
  • Outdoor instruction makes students more engaged and interested
  • Time outdoors may increase physical fitness
  • Nature settings may promote social connection and creativity

(source: Do Experiences With Nature Promote Learning? Converging Evidence of a Cause-and-Effect Relationship in Frontiers in Psychology 2019)

Outcomes and Benefits of Community Roots Forest School

Leading research in sustainability education tells us that the single biggest factor in adults caring for or engaging with the natural world is having ample opportunities to develop a relationship with the natural world at a young age.  By having routine and regular opportunities to engage with the natural world, our kindergarteners are building the foundation upon which their own environmental literacy will grow. And that is good news for our globe and our species.

What is environmental education in Early Childhood?

“Environmental education in early childhood is a holistic concept that encompasses knowledge of the natural world as well as emotions, dispositions, and skills. According to Ruth Wilson (1994), envi- ronmental education in early childhood includes the development of a sense of wonder; appreciation for the beauty and mystery of the natural world; opportunities to experience the joy of closeness to nature; and respect for other creatures. It also includes the development of problem-solving skills and the development of interest and appreciation in the world around us. These goals acknowledge that learning is more than a cognitive process and that emotions play a particularly important role (See Harlan and Rivkin, 2008). Therefore, early childhood educators should provide opportunities for children to experience peace, joy, and fascination with nature because these emotions undergird their developing knowledge, skills, and dispositions (Gardner, 1999).”

(From Guidelines for Excellence: Early Childhood environmental Education Programs – NAAEE)

Why do our kindergarteners spend so much time playing?

  • Playing fills children’s lives with joy, laughter, surprise, discovery and astonishment
  • Article 31 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Children:
    States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts. 
  • Providing children with ample opportunities to be self-directed and to play in a natural environment dove-tails with our goal of developing children who care about our world. 
  • Play is an evolutionary phenomenon that predates humanity.  All mammals show signs of play.  It is one of, if not the most, potent engines for development and as such holds a cherished place in our outdoor program.
  • In addition to the developmental benefits play provides our students, research has shown that play generally, and play in natural settings in particular, supports our social, emotional and physical health and well-being.
  • Self-directed play nurtures children’s curiosity and confidence.  Through play children overcome obstacles and build a sense of their own competence.