Forest school programs nurture natural curiosity
RIDEAU VALLEY, Feb. 25, 2022 – Confidence. Leadership. Curiosity. Wonder. These are just a few of the traits your kids will bring home from Forest School when it starts up again this spring at Foley Mountain and Baxter conservation areas.
The weekly programs focus on outdoor, play-based, child-centred learning. What does that mean, you wonder? It means students have a say in how and where they learn; they can choose to focus on activities that interest them, and in turn be more engaged in their learning.
It means they’re outside all day long, returning to the same location each week to develop a deep connection to a particular outdoor place and the many wonders it holds within. It means students are taking and managing risks, problem-solving with their peers and putting their leadership and decision-making skills to work.
It means they’re learning in nature, through nature. And it’s all really, really good for them.
“Learning outdoors has so many benefits. They’re more active, they have better mental health,” said Rebecca Whitman, Foley Mountain’s outdoor educator and certified Ontario teacher. “I really see the benefits of the hands-on learning environment and letting them choose where to focus. It’s hard as adults and teachers to transfer that power but it helps them be more engaged. We try to say yes to all of their requests.”
Research has shown that playing outside has many physical benefits, such as greater physical fitness, lower risk of nearsightedness, better sleep rhythms and more exposure to Vitamin D. But children who explore and play outside also reap psychological benefits, such as improved stress management, better concentration skills and more stable mental health.
Academically, the program supports the Ontario curriculum, although Whitman said it “may check boxes in a different order than a traditional classroom.” Math may come in the form of measuring various skulls to identify the animals, for example. Literacy is encouraged through themed story times, map-making or using a field guide for plant identification.
Risky play – climbing trees, balancing on boulders and generally doing anything that might rouse a “be careful” from worried parents – is a big component, as well.
“Risky play is incredibly important for their physical and cognitive development,” Whitman said. “Students can learn how to manage risk and their response to it.”
Registration for the spring session of Forest School is now open for Foley Mountain in Westport, while registration for the program at Baxter near Manotick will open March 1.
Beginning March 22, Foley Mountain will offer a half-day program for kids aged 3 to 5 on Wednesdays, and half and full-day programs for kids aged 4 to 10 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The semester runs weekly until the week of June 14. To learn more or to register, visit https://www.rvca.ca/outdoor-education/foley-mountain-ca/foley-mountain-forest-scool.
The same week, Baxter will begin its spring semester of half and full-day programs for kids aged 4 to 10, offered Monday to Friday. To learn more or to join the mailing list visit https://www.rvca.ca/outdoor-education/baxter/baxter-forest-school.