A kindergartener approaches the large fallen tree with slight trepidation.
With words of encouragement from his teacher, Sabrina Hale, the youngster clambers to the top of the log. His smile tells all.
Climbing trees, studying bugs and even good old-fashioned play in the great outdoors are all connected with being a student in nature pre-school and forest kindergarten school.
Rowan Tree Children’s School, a Waldorf-inspired program in Peterborough, has partnered with Hardwood Nature School to offer a nature kindergarten school at The Mount Community Centre. Both the kindergarten, which is new to The Mount, and a nature-based pre-school are popular for parents and children alike, with 50 children enrolled in the two programs.
Being physical and being outside are two factors Jessica Lindeman, director at Rowan Tree Children’s School, attributes to the appeal of this alternative entry into the education system.
“The fabric of our program is really embedded in what nature already holds,” Jessica tells Electric City Magazine.
“We’re trying to get the children more alive in their bodies and to learn how to bounce and run and move their bodies rather than having them sit for long periods of time. Academics start a lot later.”
Some of the key Waldorf principles are to surround the children with beauty and warmth and create a protective and home-like space for experiential learning and hands-on learning. Nature is an ideal playground.
“Children are just so naturally curious and inquisitive. They have this innate ability to be curious and interested in the natural world. What’s key, is they see the adults and teachers around them modelling a certain amount of respect and love and acknowledgment of the natural world.”
The children, who can attend part-time or five days a week, spend about four hours of the six-hour school day outdoors. For the time spent indoors, nature is a vital part of the teaching material. “We use a lot of storytelling as a tool to bring a sense of magic and wonder and interest,” Jessica explains.
Outdoors, children learn about subjects such as colour through the colours that are found in nature. They learn about seasonal changes and weather through nature walks year-round. They acquire various tools, such as social skills, through self-directed play and other activities.
“It’s never wasted on the children if you provide them with an opportunity to be together and to be outdoors,” Jessica says.
Sabrina is the lead teacher in the nature kindergarten program.
While learning content depends on the weather and what’s available in nature on a given day, there is structure and routine for the children, which is important at their age, Jessica says.
“We have a really strong rhythm throughout the day that keeps the kids anchored and secure,” Sabrina says.
A morning circle, outdoor exploration, story-telling, play and a closing circle are components of every day. In terms of academics, children learn, for instance, their numbers through story-telling and other engaging techniques.
By kids exploring with their bodies and being physical, like the child climbing the log, they’re learning important lessons like risk assessment.
“He was scared but he really persevered,” Sabrina says. “He knew I was there and he knew he was safe.”
When he accomplished the feat, the look on his face was “amazing. It’s a really great place for them to learn resiliency and develop confidence in themselves and their abilities.”
For more information about the nature kindergarten programs, visit this page on Rowan Tree Children’s School’s website.
Photos courtesy of Sabrina Hale.
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