Marie Sharpe Elementary School’s Nature Kindergarten at Scout Island is shedding new light on the old saying “all I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten.”
The seven girls and 15 boys enroled in the new program catch the school bus every morning at Marie Sharpe and travel to Scout Island, where they spend time outside accessing trails, forested areas, clearings and the beach alongside the lake.
There are two main outdoor teaching stations, and one indoor inside the basement of the nature house, said teacher Sylvia Swift.
Further away, three girls were assembling a teeter-totter out of scrap wood, while a boy carrying a roasting pan lid “shielded” them.
Several students were making stew and cupcakes out of mud and water. Another boy had discovered a dead bird in a tree and called Swift to help him identify it.
“We’ve got them writing journals where they draw a picture about what they did that day and we help transpose it into letters,” Smith said.
What she loves most, Smith added, is listening to the children, discovering what they are most interested in, and helping them to go deeper.
Pointing to a tree where four boys were taking turns climbing, she said going deeper can be learning how to take chances and overcome fears.
“I love being outside every day,” Swift said. “We spend maybe an hour a day inside, but today we haven’t been inside at all.”
After staff at Scout Island asked the district if it would be interested in utilizing the former daycare site at the nature centre, School District 27 looked to a nature kindergarten in Sooke, B.C. that was started in 2012 as a possible model.
The district’s early years co-ordinator Joan Lozier, along with former superintendent Mark Thiessen and director of instruction Jerome Beauchamp visited the school in Sooke.
“There’s also one in the Victoria school district so everyone’s interested to see how we will make out with our four seasons,” Lozier said. “I’m excited because there are so many things you can do with snow and ice. We will just have to make sure we keep those little bodies warm.”
When she arrived to pick up her son Chaviez at the end of the day, Bev Guichon said she loves that her son is outside all day learning through nature instead of sitting inside a classroom at a desk.
Early Child Educator Tanya Johnson works every afternoon and echoed Guichon in her appreciation for the outdoor aspects of the program.
Whether the children are doing math by patterning rocks, sticks or leaves, measuring and monitoring the weather, it’s all very authentic because the children are using real materials and having real life experiences, Johnson said.
“Even in those quiet times, all these different things we can see, hear and smell, and see changing right before our very eyes,” Johnson said.
Marie Sharpe principal Calvin Dubray said students in Elly Kalenjuk’s Grade 6 class are buddied with the Nature Kindergarten students.
On Tuesdays the Grade 6s travel with the Nature Kindergarten students on the school bus and spend the morning at Scout Island. On Thursdays the Nature Kindergarten students spend the afternoon at the school.
“We are trying to schedule lots of things on Thursdays so they can participate and feel connected as they are our students,” Dubray said.
Lozier said on Wednesdays, Grade 7 students from the Outdoor Recreation Class at Lake City Secondary’s Columneetza campus also buddy up with the Nature Kindergarten students.
“I am already making preparations for the registration process for next year because the kindergarten program will be more well-known,” Lozier added.