Sierra Club Canada Foundation
PEI Wild Child Forest School (Spring and Summer 2019)
The PEI Wild Child Forest School is a program in Charlottetown that takes place in nature, entirely outdoors for the duration of the program: rain or shine. At Forest School, kids build skills to climb trees, identify local flora and fauna, learn bird calls, explore natural areas, develop physical literacy skills, learn to use tools like saws, hammers, and drills, and get outside and play!
Understanding the complexity of our natural world and our place in it is a never ending education. It requires an integration of intense observation, wild creativity, knowledge, critical thinking, and quiet reflection. By bringing our children into nature and helping them to experience it and learn from it, we are helping them to become attuned to the natural world, and thereby indirectly benefitting wildlife. We are helping them to develop the skills needed to be effective leaders who will manage our resources responsibly and sustainably in the future.
During the spring and summer of 2019, 274 children (aged 3 to 13) participated in the PEI Wild Child Forest School program. These children were given first-hand knowledge and experience of how we are connected to and dependent on our natural surroundings. How precious resources like clean air, food, and water can be helped or harmed by human use. Children were given the opportunity to learn about the different roles of trees and plants in the natural landscapes and why it's important to have diversity and protect and enhance our local ecosystems. Through fun activities, games, art, imaginative play and hands on experience, children learn in a positive way all about the abundant natural resources in their province and how they can help to protect and enhance them. They spent more time outdoors and benefited from the increase physical activity while enjoying the province's natural spaces.
The feedback from parents has been overwhelmingly positive, and demonstrates that we have achieved our intended program outcomes. 97% of parents that responded to our post-program feedback survey noticed an increase in their child's desire to play outside in nature, 74% noticed that their child showed a greater comfort and willingness to play outside in 'not nice' weather, and 96% observed an increase in their child's confidence and ability to self-regulate around managing risk and unfamiliar situations. Finally, 80% of parents reported that their child initiated outdoor play in nature on their own more often compared to before they participated in the program.
One parent summarized the impact of the program: "The benefits of nature on children really cannot be overstated. The program in Summerside was fun, welcoming, and so valuable. My boys came home happy, sleepy and full of stories each day. They asbolutely loved their leaders, who were both compassionate and warm. We cannot wait to find out about more programs offered in our area!"