Who We Are
We are a national organization bringing together educators, parents, policy-makers, and other stakeholders passionate about the forest kindergarten model.
As the growing body of compelling scientific evidence demonstrates what we have all long held to be true – that introducing children to the natural world at an early age has a profoundly positive impact on their mental, physical, and social well-being – the need for advocacy of nationwide standards in nature immersion becomes increasingly necessary.
The American Forest Kindergarten Association (AFKA) has the goal to unite early childhood educators, parents, policy-makers, and other stakeholders in the interest of encouraging children to become attuned with their surrounding natural environment and the American landscape.
AFKA is an independent voice in the national discussion on outdoor education, leveraging the weight of the association and that of our individual members to inform the debate on national priorities for our children’s future.
AFKA seeks to be a valued partner to institutions, associations, individuals, and other entities that share the common goal of encouraging policies designed to establish and facilitate the establishment of consistent standards and programs for physical exposure to the natural world as an essential component of early childhood education on a national level.
To be considered as following the American Forest Kindergarten Model, these criteria should be in place:
1. A minimum of 1-3 hours of unstructured free play in nature.
2. Flow Learning (aka Interest-led or Child-led) is implemented. Flow learning leads to emergent curriculum, the lessons that emerge when children are free explorers in nature.
3. Inquiry Based teaching is used. Teachers are there as guides (reflecting back awe and wonder in nature) and not the center of attention. Activities can be offered, but are not required.
4. Documentation of learning is collected primarily for teachers to reflect what children are responding to; i.e. social emotional growth, as well as what strategies are working or need work. It can also be shared with parents as a way to build family communication in addition to helping parents feel more comfortable in their own interacting in nature with their children. In today’s data driven culture, the collection of documentation can provide anecdotal evidence as well as credibility for the school.
- Saint Bernard de Clairvaux
The AFKA is overseen by an Advisory Council of seven experts in the field, to establish integrity, consistency, and best practices for the Forest Kindergarten model.
Board of Directors
Aimie Stilling is a Film Producer/Director of social justice and advocacy documentaries. Her award winning film “NaturePlay-Take Childhood Back” was a result of enrolling her daughter in a forest kindergarten in Denmark, the country where the concept of forest school began. This sparked her deep research into how forest kindergartens, adventure playgrounds, natural playscapes, and Udeskole concepts combine to make the successful Nordic Outdoor Model of Education (N.O.M.E.). Aimie is a champion of a child’s right to a “Good Childhood”, free of abuse, full of joy and play, while being supported by developmentally appropriate practice in education and policy making. She hopes to inspire a global culture and education shift towards improvement in key outcomes for children. With a specialty in the Nordic Model she currently leads N.O.M.E education study tours in Scandinavia, is a frequent university guest speaker, and continues to produce films for a better world. Her background before film making was as a US National Park Ranger with a focus on backcountry rescue at Grand Canyon National Park and environmental education at Everglades National Park with nationwide assignments as a pioneering female in Wildland Firefighting, Wilderness Medicine, Federal Incident Management Teams-Medical Unit Leader,and Biological Research USFWS at NASA Kennedy Space Center.
Brenda Running is a Certified Forest Kindergarten Teacher and founder of Nature Nuts, offering outdoor preschool and nature programs in Maple Valley, Washington. Connecting kids of all ages and abilities to nature is very important to her for the sake of both the kids and the earth, and she is excited to help spread the word on the benefits of the forest kindergarten movement. As a Washington Native Plant Steward, Master Gardener and Master Naturalist, Brenda has been developing nature programs for kids since 1996. Many school-wide nature projects later, the Nature Nuts program expanded to include hikes into the adjacent forest for classrooms, after school programs and summer camps. Brenda was recognized as a King County Earth Hero in 2005 and her school-based Nature Nuts program received national recognition from the U.S. Department of Education as a Green Ribbon School in 2014.
Erin Kenny is internationally recognized as a leader in the Forest Kindergarten movement and has been developing programs to connect children with nature for over twenty years. Erin has a Bachelors degree in Environmental Studies and a Graduate degree in Environmental Law. Erin co-founded Cedarsong Nature School in 2007 and developed the first U.S. Forest Kindergarten based on the German waldkindergarten early childhood education model. Erin created the first U.S. Forest Kindergarten Teacher Training and Certification program and has already certified over 120 teachers from North America, Australia and South Korea. Erin wrote the book Forest Kindergartens: The Cedarsong Way and also contributed a chapter to David Sobel’s book “Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens”. She also co-authored “Nature Notes: Documenting Your Emergent Curriculum” with Robin Rogers. Erin founded the American Forest Kindergarten Association and is on the national Leadership Council of NAEE’s Natural Start Alliance.
Kimberly Worthington is currently a teacher at the Orcas Island Forest School, on Orcas Island, WA. Teaching in a forest kindergarten is the exact culmination of Kimberly’s hopes and intentions for the earth–to enjoy its beauty and existence and to create and value the same opportunity for young children. Kimberly completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Education from Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC, where her passion for working outdoors with children was fully realized. An educator tried and true, in the past ten years Kimberly has stepped into many leadership roles across the country, ranging from garden instructor to preschool teacher and establishing a deep passion towards the forest kindergarten education model. In joining the American Forest Kindergarten Association, Kimberly intends to further educate and support others in experiencing the joys of nature immersion as a form of early childhood education.
Matthew Hebard embarked on his journey into early childhood education by completing the Teacher Education Program at the Boulder Journey School, a preschool program that is influenced by the Reggio Emilia Approach to learning. Following this experience, he was inspired to implement a child centered, hands-on approach to learning in a Kindergarten classroom in Westminster School District. Matthew went on to become the Head Start and Colorado Preschool Coordinator for the Cherry Creek Early Childhood Program from October of 2012 through August 2014. While at Cherry Creek, Matthew passed on his knowledge and passion for child-centered learning and the utilization of natural and recycled materials in the classroom to the teaching staff. His educational background includes a Bachelor of Arts in Marketing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and a Master of Arts Degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Colorado-Denver. Matthew was a member of the 6th Buell Early Childhood Leadership Program Cohort and completed his second Master’s in the ALPS Program (Administrative Leadership and Policy) through University of Colorado-Denver.
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