This month I learned more about helping immigrants to Canada enjoy being outdoors in Yellowknife. For the first five days in May I was outside in the snow at the Forest and Nature School Practitioners Course.
Forest and Nature School is “an outdoor learning model rooted in play, child-directed and inquiry-driven experiences.” The school model exposes students to regular and repeated sessions in the same natural space. During the week, we often played in the same natural space up on the rock beside the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre. As we got more familiar with the space, we were able to see the possibilities for play and use them more fully. This is the goal for children as well.
It was fitting that it was snowy and cold since that is the northern reality for much of the year. I wanted to take the training because I run programs helping new immigrants adjust to living in Yellowknife. Getting comfortable with the outdoors can help them integrate and find life in the north more enjoyable.
At times I experienced what a child would in a Forest and Nature School program. I felt my confidence grow when I remembered skills that I had learned long ago, like how to tie knots. At the beginning, I felt lost during our free playtime and was not sure of what to do with myself. One day I joined a group playing games on the ice then wandered off to make patterns with snow angels.
My curiosity increased as I got more familiar with the natural space. The facilitators assumed that, like most children, we were competent, curious, and capable learners. I noticed these characteristics in myself.
Learning is approached more formally in some countries so I I wonder if it will be hard this summer to explain to parents the value of play as a vehicle for learning and skill development.
Eight children of immigrants will be able to go to BushKids Camp this summer, modeled on Forest and Nature Schools. I will facilitate at BushKids Camp this summer as part of completing my year-long Forest and Nature School practitioner training. I look forward to sharing my love of the land and to watching the children get curious about the outdoors where they live.
Thank you to the City of Yellowknife, United Way NWT, and the Healthy Choices Fund for supporting these children’s participation in the BushKids Camp. To learn more about land-based learning and BushKids read Chloe Dragon Smith’s blog from 2018.
— Karen Johnson, Community Connections Coordinator
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