RRC education students to join forest school for practicum
BRITTANY HOBSON, ARTS & CULTURE EDITOR
Every Monday a group of 16 preschoolers board a school bus and head to FortWhyte Alive to spend the day in a forest. And soon, RRC student-teachers will be joining them.
It’s called forest school, and it is the latest initiative to get children outside and active instead of indoors and sedentary.
“The philosophy of forest school is that it’s a child-lead, child-inspired program,” said Mavis Lewis-Webber, an early childhood education instructor at RRC. “The children are engaging in the natural environment. There’s no toys or plastic material. They’re using sticks, climbing trees, that sort of thing.”
This is Manitoba’s first forest school. An early stage started in 2014, but now FortWhyte will be launching a pilot program that includes more time outside for more students — even at the college level.
RRC will be the first Manitoba post-secondary school to offer a practicum placement at the forest school – a collaboration Lewis-Webber said she’s looking forward to.
And not only is the program successful in getting children curious about the world around them, but it also helps their mental health.
“Forest school is holistically good for children,” said Lewis-Webber. “For their cognitive development as they problem solve and develop skills, as they physically climb trees, walk on uneven surfaces, jump on logs, and socially and emotionally as they are taught competence and the ability to feel good about what they’re able to do.”
Mental health needs to be addressed right from birth, adds Lewis-Webber.
Jen Singh has two children who have both taken part in forest school through their daycare – Seven Oaks Child Day Care Centre. Her youngest, Kinzey, is four-years-old and has spent the last 10 Mondays at FortWhyte. Singh says being outdoors is important to children’s mental health because it challenges them to think about the world around them.
“I think it opens their eyes to nature. In the classroom or in daycare they get outside but it’s usually playtime,” said Singh. “When they go to forest school, they’re learning about nature, they’re learning about taking care of the Earth, they’re learning about different animals.”
The most exciting thing for Kinzey is learning to search for animal tracks, said Singh.
Lewis-Webber has taken on the role of advisor and mentor for new forest school practitioners. She hopes to continue that role as FortWhyte starts its own pilot program in the fall. As the program grows, so does Lewis-Webber’s passion for children and the outdoors. She hopes to see more programs like it in the future.
“With anything, it’s baby steps,” she said.