Mary Forbes (centre) talks with students about how to see the natural world around them using their eyes

Mary Forbes (centre) talks with students about how to see the natural world around them using their eyes

Learning to use ‘owl eyes’ at Scout Island Nature Centre

Kindergarten and preschool students are enjoying hands-on fun with nature at Scout Island Nature Centre.

Kindergarten and preschool students are enjoying hands-on fun with nature at Scout Island Nature Centre, learning about the winter habits of birds and animals through the Little Explorers Connecting Kids with Nature program.

The unique program is divided between free play for kids, and designed and directed activities. Scout Island educator Mary Forbes explained that one of the beliefs at Little Explorers is that when a child asks a question, you don’t always answer them—you ask them a question instead.

“The kids learn about using their ‘owl eyes,’ their ‘deer ears’ and their ‘coyote nose’ when they’re in nature, encouraging them to be alert and use their senses,” she said.

On the first day of this innovative program, which is the result of a partnership between the Kiwanis Club and Success by 6, 44 kindergarten students from Cataline Elementary School arrived at Scout Island.

After an initial meeting with the whole group, where they talked about things like safety and ‘nature manners.’ the kids divided into two groups with Mary Forbes and Julianne Trellenberg for a walk in the woods.

Trained in naturalist education, Forbes has been teaching three years at Scout Island and describes herself as “an interpreter between the natural world and our cultural sensitivities.”

She explained it’s always great to have parents along with their kids.

“We love getting parents involved. There is no standing around: parents are totally engaged so that they can see how simple it is to connect with their kids outside,” she said.

The kids went for a walk in the wintery wilderness, stopping to talk about where animals go in the winter, what they do and how they survive. They looked at seeds and berries—things that sustain birds and animals in the winter months, and noticed nests, tracks and more.

The program at Scout Island has three stages—the current session about adapting for winter, a winter session about ‘who’s still here’ and a final session in the spring. Some schools are registered to do all three.

Forbes said that it’s always encouraging to see parents volunteer on site with their kids’ classes.

“I want the parents to learn that it is simple and enjoyable to spend time with their kids outside—easier than ‘plugging into a wall’ and better for everyone. My best wish for kids is that they lose their fear of nature. A lot of children focus on dangers and they disassociate themselves,” she noted.

“Getting familiar makes all the difference. I didn’t grow up spending much time in nature. I was afraid of animals and I want to help other kids lose that fear.”

She said that research says that kids who spend time in nature have better retention and their understanding of deeper concepts is stronger. “Being in nature also reduces stress and builds confidence,” she added.

Despite the chilly temperature and the icy crust of snow on the ground, the kids were enthusiastic and excited. “There is no excuse for not getting outside with your kids all year round—it’s amazing,” she said.

“Scout Island is special for so many people and perfect for inspiring kids. There is no such thing as too young for Scout Island. Looking for your own answers is the best part of the journey.”


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