Students immersed in German and the woods at forest school camp

Students immersed in German and the woods at forest school camp

June 24th, 2018 by Meghan Mangrum in Local Regional News

As 4-year-old Zoe climbs on her back, counselor Rosie Garber gathers the students around after free play during a German language immersion camp, part of the Wauhatchie's Forest School School Summer Camp, at Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center on Friday, June 22, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

Gallery: Students immersed in German and the woods at forest school camp

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"Blau," said Rosie Garber as she pointed to a blue sheet of construction paper laid out in the grass. Then she pointed to the black. "Schwarz."

Garber is a counselor at a German language immersion camp hosted this summer by the Wauhatchie's Forest School based at Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center.

After identifying nine colors by their German names, Garber instructed the campers to go find something of the color in the classroom. George Minor, 8, was told to find "rot" (red) — his classroom is the great outdoors.

The week-long camp is a dual-immersion experience, Garber said. Not only is the camp conducted almost entirely in German, but it follows the Forest Kindergarten model of the Wauhatchie School, which means students spend almost the entire day outside.

"This is a new thing for us; we're trying to mix the rigid schedule of as much language input as possible with as much free range and play as possible," Garber said.

Stomping through wet grass, carrying sticks and walnuts and bugs they've found, and climbing atop a giant boulder, the students transition from regular camp activities — morning circle, singing, dancing, language lessons, learning outdoor skills — under the guidance of counselors.

The first few days it was easier for the campers, who have little to no German language experience, to ignore the directions of the counselors, Garber said. But by the end of the week, many of the students had picked up on words or directions. They also had grown accustomed to the freedom allowed by holding class outside.

"Rot. I found rot," George said as he held a red leaf toward the sky. Alvin Westbrook Toker, 6, pointed toward the sky when Garber asked him to find blue. Benjamin Rudd ran to his sister, Maggie Lu Rudd, and handed her a heart-shaped damp, yellow leaf, then hurriedly shouted "gelb" and scampered away.

The students spend some of the day in structured activities like this one, practicing outdoor skills like preparing snacks around an open fire and participating in sports, but they also are given the freedom to peek under leaves and climb hills on their own.

"I like it," George said. "Playing outside and exploring."

Jean Lomino, cofounder and director of the Wauhatchie School, said this environment is the best type not just for learning language, but for learning at all.

"What better place to learn a language than in nature, it just makes so much sense," Lomino said. "The children are already excited about learning and are engaged in their learning."

Lomino has become a renowned expert in the forest school community since she cofounded Tennessee's first forest school, the Wauhatchie School Forest Kindergarten program, in 2015 alongside Diana Meadows.

Since then, Lomino has hosted dozens of teachers from across the globe, training them how to run their own forest kindergartens or forest schools. Among them is Jiyoun Shin, an associate professor of early childhood education at Sahmyook University in South Korea, who is in the midst of a year-long sabbatical studying the impact of Forest Kindergarten on children.

Local schools, including Red Bank Elementary School, Silverdale Baptist Academy and Gilbert Elementary School in LaFayette, Georgia, have launched forest school-inspired outdoor programs of their own.

In March, Lomino and Mark McKnight, the nature center's president, announced the launch of a new forest school at the center, scheduled to open this fall.

Garber, who has taught in a variety of settings, was the catalyst for this summer's German language camp as the school prepared to launch. Lomino said it was a perfect fit, due in part because forest kindergarten is a European-rooted concept and because her goal is for all of the school's students to become compassionate people.

"My greatest goal is that they become compassionate people, that they learn kindness," Lomino said. "This camp has a big connection to that, because you are being exposed to another culture, language, traditions. It definitely opens up your mind to the multicultural world we live in."

The Wauhatchie School's German camp is not the only immersive language camp offered in the area this summer. Language South's El Pueblo Spanish Camp hosted more than 40 students at Booker T. Washington State Park during a week-long immersion into the Spanish language earlier this month.

Lomino said she and Garber are already planning for next year. They hope to add multiple sessions and have more children have the opportunity to attend the camp.

"When I see the kinds standing under these towering trees, it's amazing," Lomino said. "It's just thrilling."

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757- 6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.