Tinkergarten & Free Forest School


Last week marked the end of our first seasons with Tinkergarten and Free Forest School! Honestly I’m surprised to find myself here; when I first applied to lead/facilitate with these organizations I was certain that I could not do both. But here we are.

I decided to look for options like these for my family after beginning a homeschool preschool program for Big S last fall. We were a few weeks in and already the frustration was setting in. He didn’t like to color or sing along or recite anything or cut along the dotted line. He begged to do “school” (still does) but wasn’t interested in instructions (still isn’t). This shouldn’t have come as a surprise, y’all. He’s only 3.5!
The thing about Big S is that he loves learning–all kids do, really–and he doesn’t need me to sit him down for lessons. He is constantly observing and trying to figure things out and consistently wowing me with his little brain.  But ever since Little S came along he has had a few struggles socially and emotionally; at some point it hit me really hard that I’d much rather have a kind child than a smart one. I began reading more about whole-child development, the perils of early academic focus, the importance of unstructured play–one thing after another before eventually I was ready to let my kids spend their childhood in a tent with no toys, haha.

Being a part of Tinkergarten & Free Forest School this year has been incredibly beneficial to me and my family and (I hope!) to our community. It’s been incredible not only to get to participate in both but also to be able to offer these experiences to other families. So, let me share a little about what they are and why we love them so much!


photo by Olivia Millwood

Tinkergarten is a weekly outdoor class inspired by aspects of Waldorf, Montessori and Reggio Emilia philosophies. While it is a child-led, play-based program, classes have structure and guided play, and strive to involve caregivers. I love that the lessons are developed with the latest in child development and brain science in mind; it is a learning program designed to build foundational skills, not to raise test scores. No walls, no desks, just kids having fun–which research tells us is how kids learn and retain information best!


Dissecting sunflowers at Tinkergarten

Free Forest School, on the other hand, is a completely child-led, unstructured outdoor group run by volunteers. We meet weekly in local parks for a shared snack, a short nature walk, and circle (a time of stories and songs).  It is completely free to everyone, which was a huge reason I wanted to be able to host a Free Forest School meetup in my community.


photo by Olivia Millwood

My Tinkergarten classes are competitively priced (and they are so great about working with those who need financial assistance) but at the end of the day the cost might be prohibitive for some–it certainly would be for us. What I’ve also found is that a lot of Tinkergarten families are looking for more outdoor time with their kids & their friends so Free Forest School meets that need as well.


Social-emotional development at this age is a greater predictor of adult outcomes than early academic performance. Meaning how your kid plays at 4 is more important than how high he can count or how many shapes he can name.

So that’s how we got here. I hope to continue writing here to chronicle more of our adventures in the woods and why we are out there a few times a week. We will have one or two TG & FFS meetings through December and start the new seasons in January. Feel free to email or comment below if you have any questions, or are interested in getting involved with either organization in your area.

I’m also sharing a recommended reading list below for the interested: these are books that have helped me immensely in the past 1-3 years to reshape my parenting philosophy/outlook. [All are affiliate links, meaning I may make a small percentage of any sales made via these links.]

Recommended reading:


photo by Tanesha Brun @mommie2mommie

About Cat Q.

For three years, I lived on a tiny little island in the South Pacific called Ta'u, where I taught elementary and high school English. Much of this blog is a chronicle of my time there, and of the travels we were able to do while we were on that side of the world. Now, I'm doing a different kind of travelling in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia with my husband and two children.
This entry was posted in Forest School, Homeschool, Tinkergarten, United States. Bookmark the permalink.

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