By LeRae Haynes –
Mountview Elementary School is a family-based school nestled in a rural area about five kilometers from Williams Lake. The staff at Mountview takes great pride in building a school that meets the academic, social-emotional, and physical needs of students.
As of last year, Mountview Elementary School also offers a Nature Club and kids arrive never knowing what they’re going to learn: tracking and identifying animals by their paw prints or their scat, discovering how fungi and algae are ‘lichen’ each other, or simply how to have fun exploring in the forest.
Thanks to the nature passion and teaching skills of education assistants Lara Roorda and Liselle Pierce, kids in the Nature Club release their inner scientists, develop their leadership, team building and communication skills, and enjoy hands-on learning in classroom subjects like math and art. All while playing in the great outdoors.
The Nature Club is made up of students in Grades 3–6, according to Roorda, who was a biologist for 15 years. She said the club got started last February, after she and Pierce went to a professional development day on nature/outdoor education and nature clubs, and knew instantly that’s what they wanted to do at their own school.
“I love learning about nature—getting to spend our lunch and recess in the forest,” said grade 4 student, Aliya Grant. “I learn something every time, and really like the scavenger hunts in the forest.”
Grade 6 student Phoenix Stafford said he likes the nature club because you can discover a lot: maybe even learn to track things. “Mostly we identify animals like weasels and hares by their scat and paw prints,” he said, adding that you could learn this stuff in a classroom, but learning in the forest is better.
“You get to actually see it and find it naturally,” he explained. “We’re learning things like what a lightning strike looks like on a tree, and where ground squirrels and weasels live. It’s great to have school outside.”
Roorda said the club is a neat thing for kids who like to do something other than sports. “What’s rewarding for me is how they find it so exciting,” she said.“It was pouring rain one day and we went for a nature walk with a group of kids; they were so engaged and interested in learning.”
Both women love the outdoors and are very adventurous. “The response has been fantastic,” Pierce continued. “I love the kids running, trying new things, and being scientists.”
She’s been at the school for five years, and said they’ve always known about the three-acre wooded school district property behind the school, but in the last three or four years have started taking advantage of it.
“Our kindergarten students come out here once a week and the Strong Start kids will be coming out here soon,” she explained. “It’s a great opportunity for them. We also do a running club twice a week; we run along Bond Lake, but the kids really want to run here, so we’re doing a trail run soon for all the schools in the district.”
Roorda said her own children went to the Scout Island nature kindergarten. “I loved it and would go every time I could,” she said. “They did nature walks, and my kids talked about what they saw and came home so excited about the outside world.
“They’d say, ‘Guess what, Mom!’ and would tell me about what they experienced and what they learned. Kids being outside is so great; they’re so inquisitive and want to know things.”
There are only two rules in the nature club: nature stays in nature and if it’s alive, leave it alone.
“It’s so important for kids to feel that they’re responsible for the planet,” Roorda said. “They’re inheriting it, and what they say needs to mean something.”
“The more they feel connected, the more they’ll respect it,” said Pierce. “It will carry from this forest here, to them hunting, fishing, and camping—we’re setting a foundation right here.”
One side benefit of the club is grades three and six interacting, getting to know each other, and working together. Another is art projects that come from time in nature—both with the kindergarten students and the kids in the club.
Once, the club kids painted what they saw in the forest, and those paintings are going on a mural on the side of the school, said Roorda.
“This time in nature is good for independence, social skills, working together, and challenging themselves to do things they’ve never done before,” she said. “It translates well to the classroom and to the rest of their lives.”
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.