By Dan Rankin
Last Saturday at a national conference of the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication (EECOM) in Canmore, Alberta a Little Falls Public School teacher received recognition for getting her students back in touch with nature and the environment.
In September 2013, LFPS Grade 2 teacher Kendra Martin introduced the Forest School Program to her 20 students. It has since grown to involve over 200 students at the school, who take turns making regular day-long excursions to the property of area nature educator Cobi Sauder as well as engaging in outdoor lessons at the school where they learn about local flora and fauna, seasonal cycles, weather systems and environmental issues.
Forest School students are not currently allowed to leave the school property to attend the Sauder Farm, as teachers continue to negotiate with the provincial government.
At the conference last Saturday, Martin was the sole recipient of this year’s EECOM award for “Outstanding K-12 Class, Teacher, School or School District.” The award is in the mail for Martin, who was not present at the conference, and who did not even know she had been nominated.
“It’s great to be recognized,” she said. “Especially for environmental education, because my focus has been building a program that gets children outdoors and connects them with nature. So, it really affirms what I’ve been doing with my school and with my classroom.”
She said the Forest School program has grown and is glad a number of other teachers have taken enthusiastically to the program as well. “They’re seeing that the nature connection piece is an important part of the education of young children particularly, and they’ve found that it opens up lots of critical questioning and thinking about how they can be stewards and caretakers,” she said. “We have a team now of 10 educators who are called the Forest School Team teachers and we help each other along with planning and ideas.”
Martin also recently had the chance to showcase the successes of her Forest School program at a provincial level. Editors for the Ontario elementary school teacher trade magazine “ETFO Voice” reached out to Martin last year and asked her to write an article on the subject. The finished product, which features photos of Little Falls students engaging in Forest School activities, can be found in the Fall 2015 issue of Voice or read online at ETFOVoice.ca.
“Students in our Forest School program see themselves as ‘nature kids’ and know that their teachers value their stories and wonderings about the natural world around them,” Martin writes in the article. “These children recognize the distinct leaf shape of the burr oak and know the habits of the wintering white-tailed deer. They can tie knots, build a campfire and identify the local birds across the seasons.”
Also in the article, Martin describes how the outdoor, kinaesthetic learning of Forest School both enriches the learning of students who are already able learners in the usual classroom environment, while opening up kids who struggle in those environments to whole new areas of competence.
“Given an opportunity that’s outside the box, or different from a traditional classroom, they’re able to shine,” she said. “Kids that have struggles academically, we’re finding it gives them another avenue to learn, and another modality to learn in. If they’re not an auditory learner, but instead are a kinaesthetic learner or naturalist learner, they do well outside.”
Martin says she hopes more administrators and boards of education will embrace the idea of Forest Schools and they can take off around the province
“This can be our legacy in preparing students for the unavoidable task ahead of them – caring enough, knowing enough and wanting enough to make the difficult choices to protect our planet,” she wrote.
For more information on the LFPS Forest School program, contact Martin at Kendmart@fc.amdsb.ca or visit the Forest School Blog at edublog.amdsb.ca/forestschool.