A classroom with no walls

Field and Forest Nature School offers alternative

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/03/2016 (2449 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When is the last time you went outside for no reason at all? The staff at Discovery Children’s Centre believe that everyone—especially children — could benefit from doing just that.

Executive director Ron Blatz and his team run Field and Forest Nature School, a part-time pre-kindergarten program at DCC that takes kids out of the classroom and into a natural aspen forest behind the Living Prairie Museum (2795 Ness Ave.).

“We don’t bring toys out here, we bring magnifying glasses, rope, some shovels,” Blatz said. “But mostly the kids create, play the way kids used to before they had a lot of things.

Alana Trachenko The Field and Forest Nature School does one outdoor session per week in a natural aspen forest.

 “We’ve become a very indoor culture, and so what we’re seeing is huge numbers of children that are obese, that are suffering with mental health issues,” he said. “One of the biggest benefits of nature is that it destresses you… we want them to fall in love with nature enough when they’re little kids that they’ll want to take care of it when they’re older.”

Blatz became inspired by the idea of an outdoor education program after hearing about their success in western provinces, as well as in other countries such as Scotland. At a conference, he met a woman who ran a school that took place outdoors 95 per cent of the time, despite Scotland’s rainy weather. Blatz and his staff decided they could be taking kids outside more often.

“This is out of the box and that’s why there’s an organization called Forest School Canada,” Blatz said. “They’ve been training people and that’s really introduced us to time outside because most early childhood courses don’t focus on this.”

The school’s Kim Crockett took the one-year course with FSC and said it was eye-opening.

“It’s been an outstanding experience,” she said. “We’ve had a wonderful winter to help us start it off. Every day is a new day because we try to go at their pace and we just go with what they’re interested in. If they don’t know, we don’t know and that’s OK, we’re in it together.”

The kids make a short trek to the naturally sheltered aspen forest every Wednesday, where they gather around a fire, play games and have a snack. Staff are there to support and supervise, but they interfere as little as possible with the activities.

“It’s wonderful to have that background and see it in practise because some of the things you read, you go, ‘Oh that’s lovely,’ but does it work?” Crockett said. “Yes, it works.”

When The Metro visited on March 9, the students were learning to start a fire with flint and busy playing jail in a quinzhee they had built previously. In past sessions they’ve had the chance to see deer, squirrels and a variety of birds.

“It’s tough to kind of get outside and enjoy nature with him on our own outside of school, so it’s nice to get both at once in his early education,” parent Noah Morantz said of his son. “This can’t last throughout his entire school life so might as well get it in when we can.”

For more info, visit www.discoverycc.com

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