October 26, 2018 by Polarn O. Pyret
Treebath is an after school program in NYC and their goal is to get kids (and adults!) outdoors. They want to help overcome the struggle of weather conditions that are not typically comfortable and help find and explore nature in a big city. Treebath’s values goes hand in hand and with Polarn O. Pyret’s! So we joined hands, and are now working together to get kids geared up for all weather conditions while enjoying the outdoors no matter the weather.
When and why did you decide to start an outdoor program for children?
Oscar: A couple of years ago we realized our city children were not getting outside as much as they should. We went looking for after school programs that were outdoors, or nature based, and we couldn’t find any.
Nicole: We were so shocked there wasn’t a single fully outdoor after school program that existed for younger kids. Especially when they are at the age just before there team sports kick in.
Why do you believe in this kind of learning environment for children?
O: Nature is just the most amazing playground for kids. We both of course experienced the benefits of playing outside when we grew up. I could tell you first hand how important outdoor play was in my own childhood growing up in Sweden. Children really thrive outdoors where they can gain independence and self sufficiency through free expression.
What are the benefits of an outdoor school program?
N: There are endless studies highlighting the positive effects of being outside for children today. There is new data coming out constantly on the benefits of nature for kids – everything from reduced symptoms of ADHD, alleviating anxiety and depression, decreasing childhood obesity, and improving immune system functioning. These studies just tell us what know from common sense – being outside is good for you!
What are children learning at a Treebath class?
O: Lots of things! Our sustainability curriculum is designed to help children explore their natural surrounding through these big ideas, that we drill down on throughout the season. For example, we start with our “Who” unit – exploring who we are – in relation to each other, to our families, to the animals, to the trees, to the plants, and down to the insects. This helps the children develop empathy, the ability to understand multiple perspectives, and an awareness of themselves and the world around them.
N: We incorporate some key understandings for the kids to take home with them – like who we are is part of a community and all living things are part of different groups and communities.
O: And then of course we incorporate some games! We have active games – nature themed version of classics – like snowy owl freeze tag. And some cognitive games like nature memory, and some mindfulness activities.
N: Oh, and there’s a word of the week and animal of the week that ties together each class.
How do you set up a class in an outdoor environment that is constantly changing?
O: That’s the fun and interesting part! The children get to see and experience the changing of the seasons as well as weather changes.
N: They get this amazing connection as they watch it all unfold around them each week — they feel a part of their natural surroundings. They learn about cycles and how things change, but stay the same.
Do you host a class no matter the weather conditions?
O: As long there are safe conditions we run class. Our program is a rain or shine program – as we Swedes say, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing”. The classes we have had on rainy days usually turns out to be the most fun and memorable for the children.
N: If schools are closed for inclement weather, we will also cancel classes to make sure the kids stay safe.
How do you enjoy the outdoors with your own family?
O: We spend time in the Catskills with our two boys where they just get to run around in the woods and we do some day hikes.
N: We try to make sure we incorporate the outdoors on our vacations too – we’ve been fortunate to take the boys on some amazing hikes in Italy, Switzerland and Sweden.
Do you think the outdoor school movement is here to stay in the States?
O: Definitely! The children love it, and there are so many benefits by spending time outdoors.
N: Agreed. With all the technology out there today and this disconnection from each other and nature, I think people are starting to see its gone too far. There’s a realization that the next generation has to get back outside so we don’t all end up like zombie robots.
We understand you also offer options for adults? What kind of classes?
O: For adults we offer forest therapy (forest bathing), which a westernized version of the stress reducing and scientifically backed Japanese tradition of Shinrin-Yoku.
N: At its core, Forest Therapy is a slow, guided, mindful walk near trees that has the proven ability to improve your health. We lead you through a series of invitations to help you slow down, awaken your senses, and connect with the forest in a deeply personal way.
O: CNBC recently filmed a segment with us about Forest Therapy. The video does an excellent job or really explaining Forest Therapy in way that educates people on the benefits.