This summer, first grade teacher and Lower School Humanities Co-Chair Mary Kinahan traveled to Denmark to study the life and works of Hans Christian Andersen, and to learn more about the country's famed "forest schools." The trip was supported by Shore's Loring Award, a professional development travel grant awarded annually to a faculty member.
Kinahan began her travel in Copenhagen, where Andersen spent most of his life. The author's many fairy tales have become culturally embedded in the West's collective consciousness; some of his most famous stories include "The Emperor's New Clothes," "The Little Mermaid," "The Nightingale," "The Snow Queen," "The Ugly Duckling," "The Little Match Girl," and "Thumbelina." Andersen's works have inspired ballets, plays, and animated and live-action films.
According to Kinahan, fairy tales are a key component of Shore's first grade reading and writing curriculum; stories such as Andersen's help lay the groundwork for the "Budding Bibliophiles Ball," a major milestone of the first grade year. "One of our 'big ideas' in first grade" she says, "is that stories communicate ideas in many ways. As we look at fairy tales among several other genres, the photos, stories, artifacts, and other materials I'll bring back from Denmark will vividly illuminate Andersen's magical world and inspire our young writers."
West of Copenhagen in the forests near Roskilde, Kinahan visited outdoor schools that are part of the "forest kindergarten" movement which began in Scandinavia. Over ten percent of Danish preschools are nestled in forests or other natural settings. While these 500 schools differ in terms of surroundings, they all place the natural world squarely at the center of early childhood development. Scandinavian countries have a distinctive and shared ideology of the concept of a “good childhood”. They feel that childhood is important in its own right, not just as training for adulthood. With this child-centered philosophy in mind, countries such as Denmark have developed innovative programs such as forest schools and “adventure playgrounds” to incorporate play as a part of whole-child learning. Models of “Udeskole”, learning and play outside, combined with the cultural attitudes of “Friluftsliv”, free-air life, are pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable in education.
"Denmark's forest schools," says Kinahan, "are part of the inspiration for Shore's increasing focus on outdoor education. Danish pedagogy values 'self-worth, independence, care for others, and tolerance,' and Danes view experiences in nature as critical in understanding the world and each other. Witnessing first-hand the practices at a Danish forest school will undoubtedly help to inform our faculty discussions as we consider the next steps for outdoor learning at Shore."
The Board of Trustees established the Loring Award over 25 years ago in honor of the late Caleb Loring, Jr., who served as President of the Board of Trustees from 1961 to 1964. Since then, Loring and his son, Caleb Loring III, augmented the Loring Fund to provide annual travel support for faculty professional development.