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Wildlife in the Forest Classroom

Posted by Audrey

The Clubhouse Farm has a Forest Classroom that spans over four acres, with three distinct ecosystems and Whelan creek twisting through it. It’s part of a wildlife corridor that comes around the farm and stretches up into the mountains, eventually connecting with Greystokes Provincial Park.

The wildlife that passes through seasonally leave behind signs like scat, tracks, or marks on trees. Pictures of these birds and animals are caught on our boly 3G wireless trail cameras and sent directly to my phone, so we can keep an eye on who comes and goes through our classroom. Because wildlife is skittish and we are careful to avoid any animals when we are hiking though the forest, these cameras help us share with our students images of the animals to spark inquiry-based learning about our ecosystems.

Our trails take us through riparian black cottonwood trees where the endangered western screech owls nest, and up into Ponderosa pine grassland – home to nesting pairs of great horned owls. The smells of the forests differ, but each as beautiful as the next. There is always something to discover, question and discuss.

Although the various classrooms of the Clubhouse Farm are beautiful and interesting places, we are always aware of health and safety. A generous grant from The Central Okanagan Foundation has gone towards creating our comprehensive wildlife safety program, along with our risk assessment policies outlining the role of the educator in the outdoor classroom.

This series of documents and training sessions are in place to support and inform our educators and caregivers that must judge what is developmentally appropriate for the children in their care. Part of this initiative is focused on finding ways to increase parents’ knowledge and understanding of the risks and benefits of play.

Our role as adults includes helping our children identify and navigate risk that is appropriate for their developmental level. Prior to engaging in any playspace, we must scan for and remove any hazards from the area: hazard are conditions or equipment that pose a threat to safety that the child cannot yet understand and therefore cannot take steps to manage. We protect children from hazards while still providing opportunities for them to experience developmentally appropriate risk.

In our nature playground, our educators are trained to participate and engage with children, while setting a foundation for creativity to blossom. Children jump, swing, run, climb, build forts, sit around fires, play with water, grow things, cook and eat them, dress up, make things from scrap materials, and create using sewing needles and scissors. Dirt, grass, sand, and hills provides diverse terrain to help strengthen balance skills while fueling imagination.  

When we venture into the Forest Classroom, we hike as if we were in any other Canadian forest – being aware of the seasons, the weather, our surroundings, and the presence of any wildlife. Wildlife stays away from us, and we stay away from wildlife – it is their home first, and our classroom second. We leave nothing behind but footprints. We walk in groups, led by me or another of our trained Clubhouse Farm staff, naming plants and trees, and having some free time to play and let imaginations soar.

The benefits of playing and learning among the trees, soil and water in the forest are numerous. There is no shortage of areas to explore, neat things to discover and lessons to learn. This unstructured outdoor play increases physical and mental resilience while connecting our children to the natural environment.  It is so important that children have these spaces available to them on a regular basis, not just because it provides one of the optimum learning platforms, and increases academic performance, but because today, 87% of preschool children and 85% of school-aged children do not meet the guidelines for adequate sleep and physical activity.

 

At the same time, our children for generations have become disconnected from the natural world that supports human health and wellbeing. They need to be immersed in the natural environment to strengthen their curiosity, grow their empathy, and develop their love of the planet.

The Clubhouse Farm Program has been designed as a place to be a kid – a place that allows for the natural childhood ecology of play, adventure and learning. Please help us continue the development of this project by donating at Clubhouse’s CanadaHelps page.