Children should not go to kindergarten in concrete deserts equipped with plastic, this is the opinion of Matias Knust from Santiago de Chile. Since the sociologist, who was born in Bonn/Germany and spent his childhood in Chile, returned from his scholarship from Norway to his home in South America, he wants to grow authentic forest kindergartens. So far there are no forest kindergartens in this country and together with his newly founded foundation CIFREP Children’s International Foundation for Research, Education and Peace (www.cifrep.org) he wants to change this.
“In his way of thinking, Chile is now experiencing a turning point in its educational system towards nature education, outdoor play and learning and forest kindergarten as a natural next step,” says Matias Knust in an interview with the Infothek Waldkinder via skype. He tells us that his parents already founded a petting zoo (www.granjaventura.cl) in 2001. This is a small park located west of the city of Santiago de Chile at the foot of the Andes. The families find there farm atmosphere with horses, chickens, sheep, alpacas, llamas and rabbits, which they can stroke.
Matias Knust himself teaches bachelor students at universities and translates educational textbooks into Spanish in order to make the teaching and methods of forest, nature and wilderness education in Chile better known. He founded the foundation CIFREP, together with a sociologist from the Ministry of Education and a dancer who is teaching at the university, to initiate important steps in the educational landscape of Chile.
He also believes that we must form a large network worldwide to positively support the ideas. As a representative of the Norwegian film “Childhood” in Chile, which was released in German cinemas in 2018, he also brings the film to his home country. He is convinced that when the film spreads in Chile, people will understand “School can also be different,” says Matias Knust.
Infothek Waldkinder: We have the impression that you have many good, connected and conscious ideas. What vision do you want to achieve?
Matias Knust: My vision is that the concept of forest kindergartens should spread throughout Chile. With our foundation and the project of the film “Childhood” I am also in contact with universities in the south of Chile. There is a similar climate as in the south of Norway. I am also working on a book about “playing outside” that I translated into Spanish. I would like to give such a supportive overview, which should help to re-initiate the educational process here.
The curriculum of the kindergartens here in Chile has to do with nature in terms of content but is almost always thought through. Much takes place in the kindergartens, in the house or in the room and is prescribed. The reference to nature is missing. I would like to change that in Chile. There are in Chile is already supporting an ever-growing movement in this direction. Too little support is given to free play. In the cognitive field there is a lot of work and teaching instead of supporting free play.
In your opinion, are the educators or pedagogues in Chile trained accordingly?
We do not have any teachers here who can professionally train educators for forest kindergartens. It takes a lot of persuasion work in Chile, as far as nature, forest and wilderness education is concerned, which triggers positive development for the children. Here at the university there is so far somehow only one pedagogy which is taught, in which a little about Montessori and Waldorf pedagogy is taught, also others, but the pedagogy of the Waldkindergarten is urgently missing!
If this pedagogy is missing in your universities, what fatal consequences do you see for the children here?
Children’s creativity starves to death if they don’t have the opportunity to be creative themselves. Society needs creative people to develop itself. Here in Chile, children are not able to contribute sufficiently to their own development because almost everything is regulated by the system. There is a lack of green areas in the cities and far too many people have little contact with nature, with silence. There is a lack of being able and wanting to see far. In Santiago we have the beautiful Andes, which are very close to the city, but of the 7 million people who live here, hardly any of them go skiing or hiking in the mountains. That’s what we want to help change!
How could the support for you look like?
If you consider that here in Chile the indigenous people of the Mapuche, which means “people of the earth”, have always lived respectfully and consciously in close contact with nature, we want to establish the concept of the Forest Kindergarten here. There are smaller projects in Chile, such as weekend outings with children, or summer or winter schools. In the city of Concepción, the German club “Bosque Escuela Kawanash” has nature offers on weekends, but unfortunately there is still no forest kindergarten that is outdoors with the children from Monday to Friday, in wind and weather.
My parents’ park is situated on a mountain surrounded by forest, where I have the idea to start a forest kindergarten. For this I need the support of educators from Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Scandinavia and other European countries. With their professional experience they can help us to build a forest kindergarten here. The advantage of the park is that many schools visit it. They can then see how children play and learn outside every day. With the help of our foundation CIFREP we want to gain resources from Europe.
So you are looking for experienced professionals to open a forest kindergarten on your parents’ farm. Would that be the first forest kindergarten in Santiago de Chile?
Yes, it would be. Maybe there is a kindergarten somewhere that nobody knows about. We are certainly exotic with this project, because the Forest Kindergarten, as I got to know it in Norway and Germany, does not meet the quality standards of an ordinary kindergarten here in Chile. We are at the very beginning, like Petra Jäger with her Waldkindergarten in Flensburg 25 years ago or you in Switzerland more than 20 years ago with your Dusse Verusse Waldspielgruppen.
What about interested parents who would send their children to you at the Waldkindergarten – are there any?
I am constantly asked when you will finally open your Waldkindergarten. The parents are very interested. Due to the social awareness that humans have to develop a close relationship to nature, we have reached a turning point in our way of thinking. I am convinced that when we start, more forest kindergartens will follow. It is also the idea to promote the global network, which is also the aim of our CIFREP foundation.
How will you organize the Waldkindergarten? How long will the children attend the kindergarten?
Many schools are integrated with the kindergarten. This means that the children have to attend the kindergarten of this particular school so that they can then go on to this school. There are alternative schools, such as the Waldorf Schools, which the children of our Forest Kindergarten could attend afterwards. The future is that after attending the Forest Kindergarten, the children will be able to attend a secondary forest school. I think we have to start now.
This also opens up completely new opportunities to break new ground in Chile. Hence the call for European pedagogical support with experienced pedagogues to come to Chile. How do you imagine these educators to be?
We need people who want to learn Spanish and love children. My idea is that these people will spend at least 1 year with us here in Chile. This is also best for the children. I am thinking of 2-3 educators for the beginning. We organize their accommodation and they help us to set up and organize the forest kindergarten.
If you are interested and would like to apply for support in setting up forest kindergartens in Santiago de Chile, please contact Matias Knust directly with your application documents.
Applications by mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org