Twenty education and child care practitioners from across Western Canada were in the Comox Valley last week for a five-day course focusing on how to implement nature-based learning into educational programs.
The Child Nature Alliance of Canada — a non-profit organization based out of Ottawa — puts on the Forest Practitioners course throughout the country. The course brings educators together to learn about nature-inspired education and how it can benefit young children.
Nature-based learning differs from traditional learning in that students primarily learn and play outdoors in environments such as forests or beaches, rather than in classrooms.
The course took place at the Coal Creek Historic Park near Cumberland from Dec. 8–12. Participants came from across Vancouver Island, mainland B.C., Alberta, and even as far away as the Northwest Territories to take part.
“We’re taking 20 educators of various backgrounds and experience levels and we are exploring what it means to operate a forest nature school from the perspective of either school-based programming or early childhood care,” said course facilitator and assessor Chris Filler.
“We’re learning from each other, we’re learning from our 20 folks here and their vast backgrounds of experience.”
Helping out with facilitating the course was the Hand-in-Hand Early Years Nature Education Program — a preschool in the Comox Valley and Campbell River that takes an inquiry-based approach to learning about nature.
Throughout the five days, the 20 participants observed children enrolled in the Hand-in-Hand program, which is available for 2–5-year-olds in the Comox Valley.
Hand-in-hand program co-ordinator Jarrett Krentzel believes the benefits of nature-based education are endless for young children.
“One of the major benefits, not just from a personal standpoint but from a community standpoint, is that they become stewards of this land. The forest, the beaches, and the natural environment all benefit from them wanting to care for the space they are playing in and are connected to,” he said.
Hand-in-Hand also has a working relationship with the Cumberland Community School, which has offered an optional nature-based learning program for K–2 students for the last three years.
“All students benefit from exposure to nature and place-based education, so it is fantastic to see so many dedicated educators embracing outdoor pedagogy and building a foundation to better incorporate it into their practice,” said Cumberland Community School principal Dave Mayert.
Three Cumberland school teachers were among the 20 registered in the Forest Practitioners course last week, which also has a year-long distance learning commitment.
“We are excited about all the learning and connections these teachers will bring back from the course to share with the rest of our staff and the student learning that will follow,” said Mayert.