Free-range kids: Nature-based preschools growing in the Duluth area


Eleven hammocks draped in mosquito netting are arranged around a large basswood in a quiet Duluth forest.

One day in July each held a small child wrapped cocoon-like, clutching “stuffies” or blankets. The sleeping children lay under filtered sunlight and a canopy of greenery. Far enough away from the civilization of Arrowhead Road, only birds and a breeze made any audible sounds during an hour of rest.

The hammocks are where the kids who attend the Secret Forest Playschool nap each day. The school occupies space both inside Eastridge Community Church and behind it, using a base camp, garden, winding creek, trails and thick stands of trees as components to a large outdoor classroom. The kids ages 3-6 spend their days engaged in self-directed, unstructured outdoor playtime in the creek, exploring trails, building forts, gardening and creating art or science projects from things found in nature.


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