Several times a year some of the district’s youngest students can be found in the middle of the forest in Tilden Park, hiking along the Wildcat Creek, collecting leaves and acorns, observing worms and lizards, and singing a song dedicated to the land which the students call home.
This year the students in the Transitional Kindergarten (TK) program at the King Childhood Development Center (CDC) participate in what they call “Forest School,” part of the TK curriculum that aims to encourage students’ curiosity for exploration using all their senses in a natural setting.
This year’s Forest School program is an expansion of the classroom pilot program that began at King CDC in 2016, which was inspired by the TK Forest School program at LeConte. Students have already enjoyed four of the seven trips to Tilden Park scheduled this year, each with more challenging hikes and more extended creek play. (Watch this short video slideshow and you’ll feel like you are were there with the kids!)
According to Marguerite Talley, one of the three TK teachers at King CDC who organizes and leads students in the forest, the program is designed so that the young students engage in similar hikes and outdoor activities with the level of depth increasing over the course of the year. Students learn to observe and inquire about changes they see in the environment and practice using journals to jot down seasonal changes they see in the plants and on the trails.
“We have seen the students grow more comfortable and confident in this natural setting as they develop spatial and self awareness,” Talley says. “Parents are invited to join each trip as chaperones. A number of parents choose to come on every trip, and we have come to count on them as an important part of the team that makes these trips run smoothly.”
The Transitional Kindergarten was established in the District following the state Senate Bill 1381 that changed the enrollment dates for kindergarten in 2010 and provided state funding to continue offering students who turn five between September 2 and December 2 a year-long program to further develop their social and academic skills in preparation for kindergarten. The Forest School program at King CDC is made possible with special funding from Berkeley School Excellence Program (BSEP) and donations from donorschoose.org. This spring the Malcolm X TK students will also join in Forest School with three pilot trips.