By LeRae Haynes –
Kindergarten kids in School District 27 have the opportunity for a fresh new classroom environment in September, 2016 when the unique Scout Island Nature Kindergarten opens its doors.
Joan Lozier, early years co-ordinator for School District 27, said with the environment as co-teacher, youngsters will partake in an emergent and play-based curriculum, and the teacher will encourage kids to be curious, providing tools, ideas, and resources for kids to come up with answers to their own questions.
“Kids are so naturally curious outdoors, they can direct their own learning and are so much more engaged: it’s so much more meaningful,” she said.
“I really like that this is a holistic approach that incorporates all aspects of a child’s development: emotional, cognitive, physical, and social. For instance, there are opportunities for kids to build things together, which develops co-operation, creativity, communication, and leadership skills. They learn to resolve conflict.”
The three partners in the project are School District 27, the Williams Lake Field Naturalists, and the Scout Island Nature Centre staff. The district will provide a kindergarten teacher and a part-time early childhood educator (ECE) and the Scout Island staff will help with the programming.
She said it all started when Scout Island approached the District offering the use of their preschool space. “A nature kindergarten advisory group was formed last fall, consisting of two kindergarten teachers, a Scout Island environmental educator, a School District outdoor education resource teacher, an elementary school principal, and me,” she said.
One great source of inspiration and information for the nature kindergarten was Dr. Enid Elliot, who helped create the nature kindergarten in the Sooke School District. She is currently on faculty at Camosun College and is adjunct at University of Victoria. She was a keynote speaker and workshop facilitator at the third annual Cariboo-Chilcotin Early Years conference this past October at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake.
Her keynote speech was about the nature kindergarten in Sooke, which she helped develop in 2012, and the positive impact it has had on children and families. She said she thoroughly enjoyed her time at the Williams Lake workshop. “I was impressed with the thinking participants did and the questions they asked,” said Dr. Elliot. “It is great when a community of educators come together to share ideas and thoughts. The educators I met seem to care about the community and its children and families.”
Dr. Elliot also said she was very excited to hear School District 27 supported the development of a nature kindergarten. “I know Joan worked really hard to get it all organized,” she said.“She knew from her experience with her own program it would be a powerful experience for children. The children will get to know and care about the land, the lake, the weather, and the creatures of Williams Lake.
Young children are curious, active, and engaged learners and being on Scout Island they will investigate and explore, learning how it changes in seasons, understanding how the weather impacts the terrain, finding out who else lives there. What a magnificent opportunity for those children, as well as those families who will gain insights from the children.”
Lozier said it was incredibly informative and helpful to visit two different nature Kindergartens from two different school districts—one in Victoria and one in Sooke.
“We got to spend some time in the Victoria Coastal Kindergarten on the beach,” she said.“It was so exciting! We got a great deal of support and encouragement from both schools; they shared so much information about things like how to get started, registration, and risk management,” she said.
They also got to see kids solving problems on their own and being resilient. “Something as simple as eating their snack on a log—we saw kids helping each other and being concerned for each other’s safety.
“They have a rule that if you’re on a ledge by the ocean you have to stay on your belly,” she said. “We saw that when one little guy stood up; all the rest of the kids told him to get down on his tummy to be safe.
“There was another child who was very upset about something, and I noticed it was so much easier for a child to manage strong emotions when they’re outdoors—it’s so calming.”
She said developing grit and resilience is enormously important for people. “It starts here, where your mittens are wet on a walk and you learn that you might feel uncomfortable right now, but you know you’ll be okay until you get back indoors.
“I really caught a vision of why this works and why we want it here.”
There are obstacles – the local climate for one thing – but she said it’s certainly not insurmountable. “We just have to be better prepared, and during some months we won’t be outside as much as at other times,” she said.
“At Scout Island there are outdoor observation blinds that are out of the elements, and parents will have to be committed to have their kids dressed for the weather.”
Nature kindergarten may not be for everyone. At a recent registration information session, parents were asked to answer questions about their children and questions about themselves, to identify suitability for the program.
Lozier explained that part of the vision for the nature kindergarten, which will follow the BC curriculum, is to create a community of compassion, and an environment for caring and eager learners—children and educators alike.
“Outdoors is a natural place for kids to be,” she said. “It can be as simple as sitting under a tree on a windy fall tree counting the leaves as they fall. They learn to love the environment and care about it—a great start for the rest of their lives.”
For info visit www.sd27.bc.ca/nature-kindergarten/ or call (250) 398-3839.
LeRae Haynes is a freelance writer, song writer, community co-ordinator for Success by 6, member of Perfect Match dance band, and instigator of lots of music with kids.