Lake Wilderness Forest School

We are an all-outdoors, all-weather forest school program for children ages 3-6 located in the heart of Maple Valley at the Lake Wilderness Arboretum.

For current enrollment information, click here or contact us at info@greenplaycooperative.org. You can also sign up for our Interest List to receive updates about our programs and openings.

Registration for the 2017-2018 school year begins February 1st!

2017-2018 Application

Our Educational Philosophy

We believe that all young children need protected childhood spaces where their imagination and creativity can flourish. Surrounded by a warm and caring atmosphere, respectful of each child’s individuality, our all-outdoors forest school supports the developing social, emotional, physical and intellectual needs of young children ages 3-6.

“When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment.” –GEORGIA O’KEEFFE

Mother Nature, herself, is one of our oldest and most valuable colleagues. Inspired by the ‘Waldkindergarten’ model of education, our program seeks to engage children in learning experiences that incorporate all of the senses. We nurture children in our program by providing them with familiar daily routines, gentle rhythms of rest and play, and loving guidance and support in an inspiring outdoor setting. We draw from earth-based teachings – the four directions, the cycles of life and death in the natural world, and the language of animals and plants – while also incorporating the educational philosophies found in Waldorf and Reggio Emilia approaches.

Throughout the school day, we use tools and materials we find in the environment to support children’s curiosity – we wonder with them, we build things, we experiment, we tell stories, and play lots of games. We also give children in our program a place where they can take safe risks. We are in favor of being less fearful and more open to an early childhood experience characterized by purposeful and collaborative risk-taking.

Here’s a clip of Richard Louv, leader of The New Nature Movement, speaking about the vital connection between nature and learning:

Our Community

img_0719We cultivate and support a community of families who value play-based education, early learning inspired by nature, and the gifts of simple living. We believe that all members of our school community – parents, children, relatives, and caregivers– play a role in helping children move gently from the safety of their home environment to the new experience of school. We recently named our forest classroom “The Village” and hold safety and inclusion with the utmost regard.

Our Classroom

Lake Wilderness Forest School is located on the grounds of the 42-acre Lake Wilderness Arboretum, in Maple Valley, WA. From this location we have access to cultivated gardens, hiking trails, second growth forest, Lake Wilderness, and the nursery area, including a bathroom and additional shelter space. Over the years, our students have contributed to the development of their own special spaces in the forest and gardens for mud play, digging, water play, climbing, resting, and gathering.

Why We’re Unique

Lake Wilderness Forest School is one of the first forest schools offered in the South King County area, and one of the only all-outdoors programs available to preschool-aged children in our community.

Children who attend our program experience:

–   Small, inclusive circles with a 1:5 teacher to child ratio
–   An approach to education that honors the whole child
–   Loving guidance and  support from our teachers
–   An awareness and appreciation for the natural world
–   The creation of a childhood landscape that is rich and memorable
–   Freedom to create and direct their own learning and interests
–   Ample time for play in a safe and loving environment
–   A sense of belonging and community


Our Daily Rhythm

A ‘Sample’ Day at Forest School:

Arrival and Sign-In, parents and children

Forest Work and Play – Children participate in classroom chores, work on their individual
and group projects, create art, swing, run, and explore our forest classroom.

Ring Time – We gather for songs, group discussions, and sharing.

Snack – Children wash up, help prepare the space, participate in a blessing,
and enjoy a warm snack together, family-style.

Adventure Time – We explore our special forest places, play games,
work on seasonal projects, scout new areas, tell stories and enjoy a fresh fruit or veggie snack

We return to greet parents for our goodbye song and farewell!

Dear Friends, Goodbye
Dear Friends, Goodbye
Now is the time of day,
When we all go our way,
Dear Friends, Goodbye
Dear Friends, Goodbye
Go well and safely,
Go well and safely,
Go well and safely,
Our love be ever with you.


Program Details

AGES: 3 1/2-6. Children must be age 3 1/2 by September 1st of the school year. Children who turn 7 before January 1st of the school year are not eligible to enroll.
STUDENT-TO-TEACHER RATIO: 5:1
CLASS SIZE: Maximum 20 for the day, with clans of 10 children and 2 teachers.
PROGRAM OPTIONS Mon/Tues or Wed/Thurs or Mon-Thurs
HOURS: 9:00am-12:00pm
TUITION: 2-Day, $215/month or 4-Day, $430/month. We are a 9-month-long program.
REGISTRATION FEE: $85.00 – This fee includes a Family Membership to the Lake Wilderness Arboretum. Registration fees are only processed when a child enrolls, and held if a child is put on our waitlist.

Story TimeAll children are grouped into small “clans” of two teachers and 10 children, with whom they  will build a special relationship with throughout the year. Our mixed ages approach benefits children in many ways and helps us build a community that models the love and care which is more naturally in sync with how children learn.

Our program includes two snacks; a warm and hearty, organic snack and in-season fruits and vegetables. We are a nut and dairy free program. Families who enroll in our preschool class fulfill an annual parent volunteer commitment and are invited to share their talents throughout the year.

We follow the Tahoma School District’s calendar for closures, holidays, and vacation schedules.

We know that providing the best quality education for your child represents a financial commitment. We also believe that every child and family, regardless of economic status or circumstance, should have equal access to our programs and services.  If you would like to apply for financial assistance, please contact Sarah at sarah@greenplaycooperative.org. All information we receive will be completely confidential.

To view our organization’s non-discrimination policy, click here.


Enrollment Process

1. Sign up for our Annual Play Day in January or contact us at info@greenplaycooperative.org for a tour. All interested families are required to attend Play Day or tour our program before submitting application materials. Sign up for our Interest List to receive e-mail updates regarding registration for the 2017-18 school year.

2. Re-enrollment for current families begins mid-January. Once we determine the number of spots we have available, we will invite new families to enroll beginning February 1st.

3. If after meeting us, you feel our program is good fit for your child and family, please send an e-mail to us and we will send you a paper application to be filled out and returned. We process applications by postmark date and on a first-come, first-served basis.


Q & A

Q: What is a Forest School?

A: Forest Schools, also known as Forest Kindergartens, believe that young children learn best and develop in healthy ways when they can play and connect to the natural world around them. Today, in Germany and in other parts of Europe, “Waldkindergartens” are a very popular preschool choice for families with young children. Only recently has this approach gained attention in the United States, and in the Puget Sound region alone, the development of nature-based programs continues to gain momentum and support from the early childhood community. Check out our Play Map for the location of nature-based programs in the Puget Sound.

Q: What curriculum do you use?

A: We are a play-based early childhood program committed to helping families raise happy, healthy, and capable children. We use an ’emergent curriculum’ to support individual and group learning processes, allowing for our activities and agenda to be interest-led and child-driven. We are equally inspired by the traditions of Waldorf and Reggio Emilia; protecting the senses, promoting beauty and reverence, using the environment as our 3rd teacher, and viewing children as competent, capable, and creative learners.

Q: Will my child be outside the whole time?

A: Yes! We are a full nature-immersion program so we will be spending all of our time outside, rain or shine. In the case of severe weather, we have access to a heated, indoor shelter area.

Q: Does my child need to be potty-trained?

A: No. We welcome young children who are at all stages of potty training and request that parents inform us of the strategies they are using at home so we can support the process. We take bathroom breaks as needed throughout the morning, but if we’re out in the forest and a child really needs to go potty, we allow him/her to “water” the bushes. We understand, too, that accidents can and will happen, and handle these situations with the utmost sensitivity and care.

Q: Is snack/lunch provided?

A: We provide a snack each day and invite children to participate. Examples of our snack include organic steamed brown rice with sesame seeds and soy sauce, cinnamon oatmeal, or vegetable soup along with an herbal tea. Throughout the year, we may also prepare baked potatoes, warm apple sauce, homemade bread and muffins, and eat local berries, fruits, and veggies when they are available. Snack is served family style, and all children have a chance to participate in the set-up, clean-up, and washing of dishes.

Q: What kind of equipment/clothing must my child bring?

A: All registered families will be given a seasonal equipment list. It is imperative that children come to school prepared for the weather so that they are able to spend all of their energy on playing and learning, and less on trying to stay warm and dry.

Q: What does a mixed age group look like?

A: Mixed age groupings provide unique opportunities for children to learn and grow as part of a home-like community. We engage 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds according to their age and abilities, while they imitate the mood, gestures and work of our teachers (and their older friends). Our 5 and 6-year-olds develop the independence and sense of responsibility necessary to become leaders in the class, while also working on extended projects and goals.

Q: Is before and after school care provided?

A: At this time, we are unable to offer extended care to children in our program. However, we realize there is a great need for full-day care, especially for our working families, and hope to add this service as our program grows.

Q: Can parents participate and/or volunteer?

A: Yes! We welcome parents and community volunteers to participate in all aspects of our programming. We appreciate the talent, enthusiasm, and loving presence of parents in our community who are willing to share their work and wisdom with us. Volunteering can take on many forms – helping us reach out to new families, staffing our school booth at community events, sharing musical and artistic talents with our students, providing leadership for special events, or joining our Board of Directors.

Q: Does Little Sparrows incorporate religious teachings?

A: No. However, we do believe that all humans (and all living things) exist as part of a spiritual dimension and are deeply connected. Our program emphasizes peace, thankfulness, and respect for self, others, and the natural world.