In contrast to Germany, forest kindergartens in South Korea are not yet publicly recognised. The ideas of forest education are too foreign for the Korean Ministry of Education; considering that children in South Korea are introduced to “school education” at a very early age and learn to write in “home kindergartens” at the age of 4.
Petra Jäger is very pleased that forest kindergartens have been able to establish themselves in South Korea without state support and that she has been able to contribute to the development by passing on her experiences. The two kindergartens Marienhölzung in Flensburg/Germany and the “Dream Place of Forest Children” in Incheon/South Korea are connected by a friendship, which has been fixed in a written contract. This document is stored in a blue velvet cover with Korean and German characters. What seems stiff at first glance turned out to be a friendly and collegial contact, which has existed for 12 years and, as far as possible, will be developed into a practical exchange of experience through reciprocal guest stays.
Infothek Waldkinder: Dear Petra, what was the reason for your trip to South Korea in October 2018?
Petra Jäger: This time there were two invitations from South Korea, one from the University of Chung Kang College of Cultural Industries for a wonderful seminar on “Nature, Free Play and Community”. The second event took place at Inha University, where Prof. Dr. Kim himself studied. Prof. Dr. Kim and Prof. Dr. Lee have been friends with us for many years and we maintain intensive contact and exchange with them.
How long have you been working with Prof. Lee and his team?
In the year 2000 Prof. Dr. Lee visited us for the first time with interested pedagogues in the Waldkindergarten Flensburg, since then he visits us regularly. I met Prof. Dr. Kim a few years later during a visit to South Korea. There I was also allowed to accompany her forest kindergarten. Prof. Dr. Lee and Prof. Dr. Kim both wrote books about forest kindergartens. We had time to look into their books together and we enjoyed pictures from my home country. With loving patience they translated some paragraphs of their great characters into German.
You have been to South Korea before, what do you appreciate most about your last stay in October?
I was allowed to take part in university seminars and get in touch with a lot of interested pedagogues, that in itself is a gift and gives me a good feeling. This time I worked together with Dr. Min and her team for my first lecture. This contact was new and was arranged by Prof. Dr. Lee. Through its two-day advanced training program, the college addressed many young students and educators who wanted to try things out in nature, so on the first day of my workshop we were able to walk through the hilly countryside in pouring rain, the Koreans equipped with umbrellas, and gain experience of nature. Due to the constant rain they were mixed with a good portion of water, the participants were very brave.
Charlotte Lucas from England was also in South Korea with her lecture “Mindfulness and yoga in forest”. What could you learn from her?
Oh, Charlotte was great, she has such a natural energy and could also inspire the participants from South Korea for her idea. In her lecture about the Forest Kindergarten in England, she appealed to the people with a lot of heart and mind, she even performed a dance at the opening of her speech and at least was able to get the Koreans to romp their toes. Her wish would have been for everyone to stand up and dance along. She made many faces laugh. Her message reached the guests.
Prof. Dr. Lee’s forest kindergarten is in a park. How much connection to nature did you experience from the employees on the way there?
It was very touching again, on the way to the forest square from the forest kindergarten we were driven through the park by the technical director of the park in a small open E-Transporter and we had the opportunity to talk to the president of the park, with wonderful green tea. With a lot of respect he presented the park to us. The technical manager, like me, has been working in his field for 25 years and you can feel that he is passionate about it. He is proud of his park and even showed us his newest job, a baby rearing station for glowworms. He also led us to the President’s favourite place.
From this small park excursion we went on to the forest kindergarten “ Dream place of the forest children “ with the slogan “ In the forest children’s laughter should bloom “ of Prof. Dr. Lee. Have you met any other forest groups in the park?
On our way to the Forest Kindergarten we met many kindergarten groups who gladly accepted the offers of the park to spend hours or days in nature with regular kindergarten groups. The individual groups could be easily distinguished, each child wore a uniform consisting of the T-shirt and the trousers of his or her institution, and in a well-assorted row they listened to the supervisor, who explained all the things that can be done in the park in nature can discover. They filled their stay in the forest with various offers and projects. They had with them a large handcart full
of material that is not found in the forest. Through an overgrown forest path we went on to the forest kindergarten of Prof. Dr. Lee and then an environment opened up for me which I already know from South Korea and the proximity of our concept and our idea of the forest kindergarten to the South Korean one is obvious. The same backpacks hung on a self-made stand made of branches, the children raved across the square in their great outdoor clothes and were looking for adventures. The educators were affectionately reserved, observant and accompanying and had the group in view. For me it was a feeling of “coming home”. Tears ran down my cheeks, Prof. Dr. Lee and Prof. Dr. Kim were worried at first, but then they remembered: “Oh yes, Petra is touched by what we have in common and by the fact that this concept was understood correctly and has spread among us”.
Photo slideshow from the Forest Kindergarten
Prof. Lee is very committed to the forest kindergartens in South Korea. What has he been able to achieve in the last 20 years?
Prof Dr Lee is a very sensitive and thoughtful person, he asks questions that are really important to him, but he also spends a lot of time observing and pausing, I could learn that from him. Through his understanding and persistence, this wonderful person was able to spread the movement of the Forest Kindergarten in South Korea. With Prof. Dr. Kim at his side, he forms a perfect team, which in turn
trains forest educators and at the same time gets new energy and impulses from the forest kindergarten to keep the enthusiasm alive. Prof. Dr. Lee actually retired last summer, but far from it, in his office at the institute for further education and at the Waldkindergarten you can find many, many books, photos and new projects on the idea of nature-oriented education. In his office he has a picture of his last visit to us last June, it shows 25 laughing pedagogue faces, it was taken when we looked at a beach kindergarten together. It was the forest and beach kindergarten Geltinger Birk.
What significance does the award that he received have for the development of forest kindergartens in South Korea?
He was honoured for his merits, because for more than 10 years he has been committed to the introduction of children’s education in the forest and the introduction of forest management courses for the children, as well as the activation of forest education for the children in Korea. First of all, it is a confirmation and motivation for him to continue. The award attracts the attention of other South
Koreans and shows great respect and appreciation for his person. That does not remain unnoticed and gives new impetus to the movement of the forest kindergartens again. With his organisation KFEA (KOREA FOREST EDUCATION ASSCIATION) he has trained over 400 forest teachers since 2013. Prof. Lee received the President’s Prize on October 18 of this year for the 17th anniversary of the Forest Day.How do you experience the development of recent years in South Korea as an outsider?
I would say that development is picking up speed and existing nature projects are being consolidated and gaining more legitimacy. At the conference of the Federal Association of Nature and Forest Kindergartens in Berlin, Dr. Chang reported on the spread of the idea in Korea. She has also set a lot in motion. Just like many others in her country, she is committed to the dissemination of forest projects.
How do you feel about that personally?
I think it is a good antithesis to the problems of South Korea. There is a high pressure to perform and the children give in to the desire to “always be better than others” until they can no longer withstand the demands and lie exhausted on the ground. South Korea is not alone in this, as we all know. Even in Germany, where there are over 2000 forest kindergartens, you can feel the constant pressure of competition. Together we can manage to soften this view and the striving in order to live in community and to use our strengths together instead of being available for a consumer and performance society. In this way we would have achieved a meaningful path, which also includes our most important part, closeness to nature and a respectful and responsible life in and with it.
Especially to our first embrace, which often has the expression to see you again, to feel you and to feel emotional togetherness. I am also looking forward to the shared experiences of nature that this conference can offer us all. It helps each of us, no matter which direction we come from, to feel nature as our home, without borders and without fences. Together we can hold on to our paths with conviction and feel confirmed. I am very much looking forward to the conference in May.
Editorial management: Christoph Lang, Nadja HillgruberEditorial design and implementation: Nadja Hillgruber, www.infothek-waldkinder.orgPicture credits: Photography © Petra Jäger and organization KFEAThe digital trade journal is in its 9th year of publication