Kids In Finland Continue To Ride Bicycles To School In -17°C (1.4°F) Weather And It’s A Lesson In Commuting


Image credits: TapioKettunen

Are you a cyclist? If so, are you one of the many who carefully puts old faithful into storage over the winter months, convinced that all that rain, snow and ice is just unsuitable for biking? Well, this Finnish town is living proof that winter cycling is perfectly possible with the right planning and infrastructure, and making us feel a little soft for getting in the car at the sight of a little snow.

Pekka Tahkola, an urban well-being engineer for Navico Ltd. and a cycling coordinator for the City of Oulu, took a photo of the local school’s bicycle parking lot in -17C recently to show that no matter what the conditions, nothing is keeping these kids off their bikes.

Image credits: pekkatahkola

Because although it might seem strange for some parents to let their kids loose on two wheels, exposed to the icy cold of a northern winter, here in Finland it’s a perfectly normal and healthy thing to do. “We organized a study tour for participants from southern Finland for them to see how cycling to school is taken care of in our city,” Pekka told the informative environmental website MNN. “We visited a couple of schools and also spoke a lot with local teachers and principals. I’m pretty sure this school is among the best ones. It is definitely not the only one, and there are numerous schools in Oulu where the majority of kids cycle and walk to school.”

“It’s normal; always been like that. I cycled and kicksledded to school when I was a kid, too,” he says. “And it’s the same thing even in minus 30 C.”

Learning in nature: Washington becomes first in the country to license outdoor preschools


Seattle Times staff reporter
Education Lab is a Seattle Times project that spotlights promising approaches to persistent challenges in public education. It is produced in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network and is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Amazon and City University of Seattle. Learn more about Ed Lab

It had just stopped raining, and 4-year-old Jane Theumer was still wearing her yellow waterproof jacket and matching duck boots.

“I feel like my cheeks are cold,” she said to her preschool teacher, Hannah Kinney, as her class embarked on their daily hike through West Seattle’s forestlike Camp Long.

But once on the trail, Jane’s thoughts turned to other things, as she stopped to inspect a clump of white mushrooms on the side of the path and later checked on an orange slug her classmates were crowded around.

It was the second week of the new school year at Tiny Trees Preschool, one of the state’s outdoor early education programs — where instead of gathering on a colorful rug inside, kids sit on tree stumps and go hiking through the woods. The preschool takes place entirely outdoors from September to June, rain or shine.

“There’s a beauty in being able to see kids run outdoors and look at slugs and take care of plants and animals,” said Kinney, who used to teach at indoor schools in Michigan. “You do see students that need that space to move their bodies and feel like they have that choice and ownership of their learning.”

Kinney teaches two outdoor preschool classes at Tiny Trees — a four-hour class in the morning and a three-hour class in the afternoon — and her students, mostly 3- and 4-year-olds, are thinking about their relationship with nature more, she said. They’re checking in with their feelings and emotions more. They’re more creative with the space they have, she said. And yet they’re still practicing and learning all the same things traditional preschoolers do.

Because the idea of outdoor early education is catching on nationwide, Washington launched a pilot program in 2017 to develop official requirements that all licensed outdoor preschools must follow.

Until recently, no outdoor preschools in the United States were licensed, which meant they couldn’t offer full-day programs, an important factor for many working families. Unlicensed outdoor preschools also can’t offer state financial assistance to families.

But over the past two years, the Washington Department of Children, Youth and Families has worked on creating new guidelines specifically for outdoor learning, which has slightly different regulations than indoor schools. One new standard requires each classroom to have one teacher for every six kids, so most classes have two or three staff members. Other guidelines detail how to implement naptime, or what to do when it rains.

“We do have a canopy that we put over the sign-in and class area,” Kinney said. “Otherwise, they play in the rain. They’re provided with good rain gear … And if the weather gets to a point where it’s unsafe, we do have options to go inside.”

At Camp Long, the Tiny Trees class can escape to an on-site lodge if the weather gets too hot or cold, she said. Other classrooms have community centers or covered picnic areas.

This fall, with the new regulations in hand, the state finally started to officially license a few programs, becoming the first in the country to do so.

In early September, two programs made it through the process: Squaxin Island Child Development Center in Shelton, Mason County, and Kaleidoscope Preschool and Child Care Center in Eastsound, San Juan County. Tiny Trees will hopefully follow shortly, said Aliza Yair, who works with the state’s outdoor preschool pilot program.

“Being outdoors is beneficial to all children,” Yair said, “but for some families specifically, it’s a really good fit for their family or child. It gives them that option.”

So far, Jane has loved Tiny Trees, her mom, Nika Cull, said. Because the outdoor preschool model encourages so much movement, it exposes the kids to different sorts of experiences in nature, she said.


“My kids have the rest of their lives to sit in a chair and listen to someone talk,” Cull said. “Childhood is so limited for things like playing and climbing trees and going on hikes. There’s so much foundational importance interwoven into these activities … And it just lets them be kids for as long as they can.”

But while the state pushes forward to promote outdoor learning, some families have voiced worries about the idea.

“Number one, weather,” said Amber Fyfe-Johnson, who studies health and education at Washington State University. “But if you dress kids appropriately and keep them active, they’re fine … And the second concern I hear is about kindergarten readiness or academic metrics — are there schools preparing kids for kindergarten?”


This is why Fyfe-Johnson recently launched a project exploring the effect nature-based early learning has on children’s mental and physical health.

Over the next five years, she plans on partnering with Tiny Trees to track children’s academic growth, physical activity, body mass index, sleep and digestive health, she said.

Previous studies, she said, have suggested that kids are twice as physically active outside as they are inside. Her goal is to offer more evidence that outdoor time is crucial for children’s development.

Plus, she said, the day-to-day lessons in an outdoor class aren’t really that different from indoor ones.

In Kinney’s Camp Long classroom, the students find themselves constantly busy.

In one area of the “classroom,” there’s a spot set up for kids to experiment with magnifying glasses and magnets. There’s also designated areas for reading and imaginative play (filled with building blocks and plastic foods). And another space is sectioned off to protect the park’s native plant species, which the students learn about too.

“I don’t feel like we’re missing out on anything,” Kinney said. “And some kids just need a different environment.”



Why Intentionally Building Empathy Is More Important Now Than Ever

Why Intentionally Building Empathy Is More Important Now Than Ever


Many people believe that life is a zero-sum game and that the most ruthless people get the furthest. But Jamil Zaki, a Stanford psychologist and author of The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World, says there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary.

“It turns out that nice guys finish first in lots of different ways,” Zaki said on KQED’s Forum program. And, when people are nice, they not only help others, but they help themselves as well. Empathetic people are generally happier, healthier and more effective at work. And, acting from a place of empathy, he argues, could be just what the world needs at this moment, when division has become the norm.

He points to the case of a former Canadian white supremacist, Tony McAleer, who turned to a mentor when he was trying to leave that lifestyle. He confessed his participation in groups like White Aryan Resistance (WAR) and his role as a recruiter for them. He didn’t realize that his mentor, Dov Baron, was Jewish. When McAleer learned this fact, he immediately felt shame and disconnection, but rather than judging him, Baron had compassion for his struggle. Zaki writes about this act of empathy in his book:

“‘Here was this man who loved me and wanted to heal me, and here was I, a person who had once advocated for the annihilation of his people.’ Tony felt he didn’t deserve a shred of compassion from Dov, but Dov extended it nonetheless. This cracked Tony open. He’d created a surface of hatred to cover his shame and loneliness. Once someone accepted him warts and all, he no longer needed it.”

Dov Baron’s empathetic response to McAleer’s hate helped set him on a different path. When Baron showed compassion, it made a bigger impact than shunning McAleer. It opened up an opportunity for dialogue and growth. McAleer now runs an organization called Life After Hate to help other people leave hate groups.

“I truly feel that the cultural forces that are pushing us apart are so vast and so prevalent that acting with empathy, and trying to connect despite them, is a radical act,” Zaki said. “It takes pushing back against something in order to reclaim that common humanity.”

He points to evidence that empathy has been declining over the past 30 years. Psychologists measure empathy through self-reported surveys. Participants rate themselves on a scale of one to five on various questions like: “I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me” or “I try to think about everyone’s side of a disagreement before I make a decision.” The scores are averaged to get a total empathy score.

In 1979, the average American’s total empathy score was a four out of five, a “solid B.” In 2009, thirty years later, the average American scored a three out of five. In practical terms, Zaki says Americans in 2009 are 75-percent less empathetic than their counterparts thirty years ago. Studies like these stoke his concern about empathy erosion.

“I don’t argue that what we want is maximal empathy at all times,” Zaki said. “If you felt everyone’s pain at all times, you wouldn’t make it down one block in San Francisco without falling down in a heap.”

And, he recognizes that there are many professions that experience empathy fatigue, which is why he thinks empathy is a skill and a tool that needs to be cultivated and used at the right times. Part of functioning in this world is to know when to fall back and when to employ empathy.

Those in helping professions like teaching, social work, or medicine can buffer themselves from burnout and “compassion fatigue” with self-care strategies, including meditation and social support. A study of nurses in acute mental health settings found staff support groups helped buffer the nurses, but only if they were structured to minimize negative communication and focused on talking about challenges in constructive ways.

Concerns About Simplistic Definitions of Empathy

English Professor Cris Beam also studies empathy and wrote a book called, I Feel You: The Surprising Power of Extreme Empathy. She notes that there are many definitions of empathy. Some of the earliest, and simplest ones, characterize empathy as the ability to “stand in another’s shoes.” Brené Brown, who has recently popularized empathy, defines it as “feeling with people,” and notes that it’s a “vulnerable choice” because it requires a person to tap into something personal that identifies with the struggle of another.

While researching South Africa, Beam came across another definition of empathy she finds powerful: Empathy is a disruption of power. She described the case of Eugene de Kock, an apartheid-era assassin responsible for the deaths of dozens of black activists. South African authorities released de Kock from prison after he had served 20 years, in part because some families of his victims supported the move. They felt de Kock held too much power as the embodiment of evil, and that it kept other South Africans from reflecting on their own role in apartheid.

“We can think about empathy as a way to not only look at the other, but to look at ourselves,” Beam said.

Beam contends that empathy is a moral position, not a discrete set of skills, as it is sometimes taught. She says empathy can be strengthened, but before that a person must be grounded in an empathetic understanding that often comes from literature, art and theater. Yale professor Paul Bloom is also critical of the emphasis on empathy, arguing that it’s easier to empathetic towards individuals, leading society to make important policy decisions based on emotion instead of facts.

“I worry about [empathy] being taught as a skill because it should be something of a core identity and a way of moving through the world,” said Beam.

Some of her concern comes from the way that empathy has been co-opted by the business world. Terms like “empathetic design” and “empathetic marketing” repel her. She sees these as attempts to isolate the consumer, and provide them with exactly what they want, when they want it, as antithetical to a core part of deeper empathy – connection.

Could Empathy Change Systems?

Jamil Zaki agrees with Beam that deep empathy is about connection. But his research shows that empathy can be developed, like a muscle. And, he thinks that could affect the world positively not only at the individual level, but in things like police training.

In his book, Zaki describes how Washington State’s police trainer, Sue Rahr, used the power of social norms to reduce use-of-force among police there. She recognized that many police saw themselves as “warriors,” a social norm that could push new recruits who signed up to police with altruistic motives into believing they need to show dominance at all times. Rahr pushed back against that norm, training police to work with the community instead of against them. Psychologists recently chose 300 police officers working in high-need areas of Seattle and ran them through Rahr’s program. They found those officers used force 30 percent less often than their peers. And, other studies have shown police who went through the training have more knowledge about how to deal with someone in a behavioral crisis and more emotional intelligence.

Still, Zaki is quick to point out the empathy can’t solve everything. Many of the most pernicious problems are structural, not individual, and no amount of individual empathy can solve them. The policing story is a good example of that – while Rahr’s training takes steps in the right direction it doesn’t solve all the problems with policing, including racial bias. Citizens appreciated attempts to change policing, but were still upset that police officers who did use force were rarely prosecuted.

Stress Makes It Hard To Be Empathetic

Stress inhibits people’s ability to be empathetic. Zaki points out irony here. Many psychologists say human connection is one of the best ways to move past pain or trauma, the very things that keep people from opening up to empathy.

“Often times when we experience stress, we feel that we’re in a rush in order to survive for ourselves, we become untuned to the needs of others,” Zaki said.

famous study conducted in the ‘70s by Princeton researchers John Darley and Daniel Batson asked seminary students to write a sermon about the parable of the good Samaritan. They were then told to go across campus to deliver the sermon. Unbeknownst to the study participants, an actor lurked along the route they would take, and acted as though he required help. Half the participants had been told to take their time getting to the location for the sermon and the other half had been told they were in a rush.

Sixty to 70-percent of the seminary students in the “non-rush” condition stopped to help. Only 10-percent of those in the “rush” condition did so.

“Sometimes one of the most important things is to cue ourselves in for one moment and recognize that there’s a full person on the other side of this interaction,” Zaki said.

He sees enormous potential in the internet to connect people, but is also aware that often communication through the internet has the effect of dehumanizing the person on the other side of the exchange. When we interact online, we can’t see the usual cues that indicate to us how the other person is reacting to what we’re saying. That makes it easier to be cruel and to not listen.

But it’s not all bad news. Empathy is contagious and establishing compassion and kindness as social norms can help spread it. Zaki and his graduate student, Erika Weisz, conducted a study with close to 1,000 seventh graders in the San Francisco Bay Area in which students wrote about why they think empathy is important and useful. Then students read one another’s responses, learning that their peers valued caring as much as they did. The data from this study is preliminary, but students told Weisz and her team that after learning about their peers’ empathy they were also more motivated to be empathetic.

Jason Okonofua has been experimenting with similar prosocial interventions with teachers. In a small study at five middle schools, he taught teachers about “empathetic discipline.” They reflected on discipline strategies that would not only punish students, but help them grow. They heard stories of students who’d experienced empathetic discipline and how it helped them. And teachers wrote about strategies they could use in their classrooms. After the training, the empathetic attitudes teachers expressed in their writing seemed to show up in the classroom. Students reported feeling more respected, especially if they had previously been suspended.

While none of these examples are definitive, they hint at the possibility that systems can change as the people within them change their attitudes. Humans conform to social norms – the good ones and the bad ones – and shaping those norms can be a powerful force for promoting empathy.

Out Of The Classroom And Into The Woods – NPR

Children enjoying outdoor education.

Philby Illustration/Corbis

Kids in the U.S. are spending less time outside. Even in kindergarten, recess is being cut back. But in the small town of Quechee, Vt., a teacher is bucking that trend: One day a week, she takes her students outside — for the entire school day.

It’s called Forest Monday.

Eliza Minnucci got the idea after watching a documentary about a forest school in Switzerland where kids spend all day, every day, out in the woods.

“I would do that in a heartbeat,” she thought to herself. Then reality hit. “We’re in a public school in America. That’s not going to happen.”

But her principal at the Ottauquechee School in central Vermont surprised her by saying: Try it.

Every Monday morning, the kids suit up for a day outdoors. Rain or shine — even in the bitter cold — they go out. They head to the woods next to their school where they’ve built a home site with forts and a fire pit.

First thing, the kids go to their “sit spots.” These are designated places — under a tree, on a log — where each kid sits quietly, alone, for 10 minutes. Their task is to notice what’s changed in nature since last week.

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“There’s more moisture in the air,” a boy named Orion Bee tells me. An astute observation: It’s early April on the day I visit, and the snow is starting to melt, making the air feel slightly soggy.

Playtime is next. Kids run around and do all kinds of things they’re not allowed to do inside, like yell and throw things. Down by the stream, two boys are working together to build a dam.

“We can’t roll it,” says one boy, pushing with all his might to try to move a downed tree onto the dam.

“We can roll it!” insists the other boy. They push and push, to no avail. Eventually, one of the boys realizes he can get leverage using the tree’s branches. Teacher Eliza Minnucci is standing about 20 feet away, watching.

“We’re supposed to study force and motion in kindergarten,” she says — and these boys just got a real-world lesson. “Outside offers so much,” she says. “It is sort of the deepest and widest environment for learning that we have.”

There are formal lessons in the forest, too. After playtime, the kids visit learning stations. At one, they paint using natural materials. At another, they make letters out of sticks. One girl struggles to make an “S.”

“I’m going to get some curvy sticks!” she declares. Realizing that curvy sticks are hard to come by, she soon comes up with the idea of making a backwards “Z” instead.

“Kids are so resourceful out here,” says Minnucci. “In the classroom, we chunk everything into small pieces. We teach them discrete skills and facts and they put it together later. That’s a good way to learn, but it’s not the way the world works,” she says. “I like giving them the opportunity to be in a really complex place where they need to think about how to build a dam with a peer and at the same time, think about staying dry and staying warm.”

There are very few rules in the woods. Take care of yourself, take care of others, don’t wander too far away; that’s pretty much it. The goal is to let kids experience independence and help them learn the self-regulation skills that are so important to becoming a successful adult. Minnucci points to a kid sitting in the stream.

“It’s 33 degrees out. He’s sitting in water. And he’s going to figure out whether that becomes uncomfortable or not,” she says. “I don’t need to make a rule for him. He’s going to figure that out. This is a place where he can learn to take care of himself.”

Minnucci worries that U.S. schools have become too focused on academics and test scores and not enough on “noncognitive” skills such as persistence and self-control. There is growing attention on the importance of these skills, but Minnucci doesn’t think traditional school is set up to teach them very well.

Forest Mondays, however, provide lots of opportunities.

“I see some amazing grit,” she says with a smile, looking over at the boys who have successfully moved the downed tree onto their dam.

At Ottauquechee School, taking children into the woods requires more adult supervision. Grants pay for an additional forest day teacher. And most Mondays, there’s at least one parent volunteer. Chris Cooper comes often.

“I like spending time with my son,” he says. “I think it’s a really great idea that they get the kids out. They’re able to just kind of explore and figure things out on their own.”

And what do the students think?

“We get to play and we don’t have to stay seated forever,” says kindergartner Jacob Tyburski.

When Minnucci started this experiment two years ago, she knew it would be good for the rowdy boys, who clearly need to run around more than the typical school day offers.

What she didn’t foresee was how good it would be for the children who can sit still and “do” school when they’re 5 years old.

Kids who are good at school need to understand there’s more to life than acing academics, says Minnucci. And students who aren’t excelling at the academic stuff need to know there’s value in the things they are good at.

Clearly there’s a lot students are learning in the forest. But what about standardized test scores?

Minnucci says scores went up more last year than any other year she’s been teaching. She’s quick to point out there could be lots of reasons for that.

What her students gain from the experience might not be measurable, she says, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.

Her principal, Amos Kornfeld, agrees. He says schools are being forced to think about everything in terms of data and measurable outcomes, but he doesn’t need test scores to tell him forest kindergarten is working.

When the kids come back from the woods, they look happy and healthy, he says. “Schools need to be focusing on that, too.”

Emily Hanford is an education correspondent for American Radio Works.

The “Ready to go” Kid Backpack

We recently posted a simple infographic of a typical Forest School backpack and all it’s accessories and thought this topic deserved a little more attention.


Kleen Kanteen Thermos (1)


I don’t know about you, but my days are usually filled with running errands, getting in a run (w/ or w/out the stroller and a dog), letting my son run wild on his own, grabbing a bite to eat, heading to the in-laws, exchanging clothes, shoes, toys and other items and then of course forest school and not to forget weekend warrior trips to the beach or mountains or the occasional flight, bus ride, boat ride etc…

The ‘ready to go’ pack has become an essential not just for a day at forest school but every excursion we the adventuring parents make.

And I’m sure like me, you have gone through the stages and transitions of what items go in what bag(s). There’s the tote bag insert, the full on diaper bag, the mom/dad backpack. and the ridiculous number of other bag-like things we own that have served at one point or another as a vessel for wipes, diapers, snacks, toys, bottles, extra clothes, shoes, hats, sunscreen, bibs, did I say wipes? And don’t forget more snacks.

Once your child is ready to attend forest kindergarten they are likely ready to wear their own pack, this means it’s time to let them carry most of their stuff (and some of yours). The key to an efficient (not overloaded) kid backpack is keeping the essentials and changing out the ‘as needed’.

Obviously the lists below are here to serve as suggestions and guidelines – we and our babes are all different humans with different ideas, desires, needs, wants etc…So take a look at ours and create your own essentials list!

Essentials List:

Backpack :

Our recommendation here is that you go kid sized and outdoor oriented. Why? Well the size might be somewhat obvious – get it so it actually fits your child and they can comfortably carry it.

Avoid school backpacks and go for outdoor styles as they come designed to be work for longer period and with additions like waist and chest straps to help keep it on them. Also, outdoor style packs have well placed water bottle holders, extra pockets, and clips for all the fun stuff. You won’t regret it.

See our ‘Kids-pack’ review for a few to consider.

What’s Inside:

Reusable everything!

  • Stainless Steel food containers
  • Stainless steel water bottle
    • Why not BPA free plastic you ask? We feel it’s time to ditch the plastic for good. A stainless steel bottle will likely last a lot longer and is easier to clean with tablets.
  • Bamboo Utensils
    • Having a set of utensils clipped in your bag really does make being an enviro-hero a little easier – so don’t leave home without them!
  • Reusable Pouches / Snack Bags
    • Yes they are great for cheddar bunnies or raisins or apple slices, but they can also be great pencil cases or rock collection pouches too. These are a must!
  • Bandana
    • This is possibly the best invention of all time. Bandanas can be used for all sorts of things; impromptu bib, face towel, treasure wrapper upper, sweatband, mini placemat, spoon wiper off-er etc… It’s basically the outdoor kids hero cape.
      • United By Blue – for every item sold, 1 lb of trash is removed from our world’s oceans and waterways.
  • Hat
    • Beanie for cold weather
    • Bucket hat for warm weather
  • Mittens and/or extra socks
    • Depending on the weather; it’s always a great idea to have an extra pair of these in your sack.
  • Change of shoes
    • we recommend Crocs of Sanuks: easy to clean and lightweight to clip on the outside of your pack.
  • Mineral Sunscreen (reef safe)
    • After a good amount of research our recommendation is Blue Lizard.
    • Read more about mineral sunscreens here.
  • Bug Spray (doTerra essential oils blend)
  • Hand Sanitizer (doTerra essential oils blend)


Share your adventures with us on Instagram! @fernandfeatherforestschool


>>As a full time Forest Kindergarten we do appreciate well made gear. In no way however do we feel a need or desire to influence our families or readers to purchase any gear in particular. Rather, we aim to share our opinions and knowledge based on our years of outdoor experience, our outdoor preschool experience and our experience as parents. We do not receive sponsorship nor are we compensated in any way by any brands we post about.<<