(Monday, April 15, Red Lake, ON)
- Kindergarten children at St. John School are getting an extra dose of fresh air and exercise as they explore a forest beside their school in their new Forest and Nature School Program. The school partnered with FIREFLY's Melanie Ewen, Counsellor and certified Child and Nature Alliance of Canada facilitator to bring the program to the school.
Every Tuesday for half a day students head out into the forest and test their boundaries and problem-solving skills. The natural environment provides ample opportunities for the children to challenge themselves as they explore the forest. They may slide down an embankment, shimmy across a fallen log four feet off the ground, examine deer scat or figure out how to climb up a steep, slippery hill. Ewen and the educators stand by to support the students as they explore, providing resources and tools when necessary. "We don't say no," says Ewen. "We ask what's your plan? When a challenge happens our goal is to let the children sort it out, and not intervene and step in unless it's absolutely necessary. The students are learning to have grit, conflict resolution skills, emotional intelligence and build trust and confidence in themselves and others with the knowledge that the adults believe they can do it."
St. John School teacher, Gianna Johannesson, has great things to say about the program. "The kids get so excited to go outside, regardless of how cold it is. It's amazing to see them working hard without quitting or getting upset or asking for help. This confidence translates into the classroom. All the children, especially those who struggle with being overstimulated or anxious in the school setting, do not struggle in this outdoor setting."
At the end of each session, Ewen calls all the students back by mimicking the hoot of an owl to let them know it's sharing circle time. The children, sit in a circle and take turns holding the talking stick, and talk about something they are grateful for or enjoyed doing during the session.
The classroom teachers continue the outside learning by bringing it into the classroom. "What is exciting to me is watching the St. John School teaching team embrace the students' curiosity outside and bringing it into the classroom for further exploration and discussion. The philosophy starts outside and then translates into the classroom," says Ewen.
Principal Corinna Glazier is pleased with the success of the program. "All of our children, no matter their abilities, discover, wonder and experience their investigations with an eagerness that is shared with the adults supporting them. Seeing the children bring their outdoor experiences into the classroom and carrying on with their inquiry is what makes this program so successful."
St. John School's Forest and Nature School Program began in January 2019 and aims to provide repeated access to natural play, through child-directed and inquiry-based learning.