Outdoor 'forest schools' see enrolment rise
KINCARDINE, ONT. -- It’s another day of “class” for students at Kincardine Forest School.
“We’re a type of private school. The kids spend the entire day outside, which is fabulous. We aren’t as focused on the intellectual curriculum. We’re focused on their social and emotional development. There’s plenty of physical components as well, balancing and fine-tuning their capabilities,” says Kincardine Forest School Principal Christine Brown.
For the past few years, students in Midwestern Ontario have had the opportunity to enrol in At Last Forest Schools. Simply put, a day is full of student-led outdoor discovery
Founded in 2016 by an Owen Sound couple, there are now eight 'forest schools' across Ontario.
“We’re definitely getting more enrolment. This year we went from five schools to eight across Ontario. The three new ones just picked up and flew. We had waitlists within weeks,” says Brown.
A renewed focus on outdoor learning amidst a pandemic has sparked more interest in the roughly $55/day program.
“Parents see the value in it, especially this year where parents are a little concerned about social distancing in the classrooms, so this is a great way to complement virtual learning. But, if parents are sending their kids to traditional schooling, this is a great way for students to get their outdoor space,” she says.
Only running one or two days a week, Brown says forest school is designed a complement to traditional learning, and is not a replacement. She says a lot of their students are enrolled in traditional classroom learning, and simply take a day off each week to learn outdoors.
“Teachers in the area have been super supportive of it, seeing the benefit of students missing a day of class, joining back up for the rest of the week, and learning a little bit better,” she says.
And the kids at the forest school seem to love it.
“I really like exploring. The coolest thing I probably seen was a salamander. That was super cool,” says Owen, 11.
Six-year-old Felix says, “We found some clay and I made a sculpture of a dragon. I really liked that."
At Last Forest Schools run throughout the school year, including winter and they offer summer camps as well.
They have schools in Owen Sound, Saugeen Shores, Kincardine, Goderich, Hanover, Orangeville, Haliburton and a Forest Farm School near Allenford.
Forest school principals are preparing for more students this fall and winter, as families either try to offset virtual learning, or complement traditional classroom learning.