Parents who are looking for a dynamic learning environment to complement conventional classroom learning might consider enrolling their children for one or two days a week at the Free Spirit Forest and Nature School in Memorial Park.
At Free Spirit Forest and Nature School (FSFNS), learning and play are synonymous, according to directors Matt and Kim Simpson, who first offered an outdoor school in Collingwood in 2016 and in Meaford starting in 2018. They describe their approach as “student-led and play-based, allowing children to immerse themselves in various outdoor settings where things are unhurried and where there is space for independent reflection, collaborative creation, and risky play, where children enjoy the freedom to explore, build, play, and engage with one anther guided by a skilled mentor.”
“Meaford school-age children ages 4 to 12 gather at 8:45 a.m. one or two days a week, on Tuesdays and/or Fridays during the school year at Kin Hall in Memorial Park and spend the whole day outside, immersed in nature regardless of the weather or the season,” Kim said.
“The program complements regular schooling. It is well received. Teachers and families report that children come back to the regular school program with increased readiness to learn.
“Each day looks different. We offer a child-led emergent program. The three pillars that we follow are connection to nature, to self, and to others. Within that you will find outdoor primitive skills like fire building, tracking, plant ID, and knot tying, as well as physical literacy. Time is spent working through social dynamics and collaboration skills.”
“It’s hard to sum up,” Matt said. “Basically forest and nature school is about children finding their spark. I would argue that children’s learning is even deeper when connected with nature and focused on their interests.”
“Our mission is to create meaningful connections with nature for everyone. We have various bursaries through our Young and Wild tuition reduction program to make our school more accessible.”
FSFNS has expanded its programming to include a Cedars and Saplings program for children as young as 18 months and a half-day Wild Mushroom Walk program for adults.
Cedars and Saplings: “This unhurried, nature-based program is for caregivers and toddlers ages 18 months to four years,” Matt said. “Through active outdoor play and exploration, this program gives your early learner a well-rounded, fun and hands-on learning environment.”
Wild Mushroom Walk with Barefoot Brian, October 1, 9 a.m. to noon. “Adults who want to be nature-connected are invited to join Barefoot Brian (aka Brian McLellan-Tuck) for a three-hour foraging hike through mixed hardwood forests. You will be guided through a morning of exploration as he teaches about wild mushrooms and their uses.”
For more information on the Free Spirit Forest and Nature School for children ages 4 to 12 or to register, visit www.fsforestschool.com.
Bursary information is available at fsforestschool.com/bursaries/
For information on the Cedars and Saplings program go to fsforestschool.com/cedars-and-saplings/
To register for the Wild Mushroom Walk with Barefoot Brian, go to fsforestschool.com/wild-mushroom-walk