Owen Sound, Ontario
Forest Schools are becoming increasingly popular in Canada and worldwide. In Ontario Forest School philosophies are being carried out in school yards, city parks, and even in backyards, but Grey-Bruce is lucky enough to have it’s own locally-run Forest School program thanks to owners and operators Carlin and Debbie Val.
The organization currently has two locations, one in Owen Sound and the other in Port Elgin, which offer amazing diversity in the land, flora, fauna, seasons and activities. The Owen Sound location is now in it’s second full season, while the Port Elgin location opened in September 2017 at MacGregor Point Provincial Park.
They are now starting the process to open a third school in the Hanover and Walkerton area.
“We have incredible leadership and partnerships among our teachers, community and parents, allowing us to have access to high rope skills, indigenous traditions, daily yoga instruction, and a 100% certified teaching staff with strong environmental knowledge yet a free and fun approach to child-led education,” says Debbie Val.
According to the Val’s they are the first Forest School to have created a partnership with a provincial park. They hope their work helps to pave the way for other Forest Schools to access our parks.
“There seems to always be something new and something else on the way at Forest School,” continues Val. “We have many really cool opportunities for our children that come from the talent within our communities. When the students lead the way the energy is unstoppable. Soon we will be trying to organize parents and volunteers to start a “Friends of Forest School” non-profit organization. Our hope is that this non-profit can apply for grants and use new sources of funding to subsidize or sponsor children. The main objective is to provide the Forest School experience to more families.”
According to the Val’s, they have formed a partnership with the M’Wikwedong Native Cultural Resource Centre in Owen Sound this year where the Forest School provides local youth with caving and rock climbing expeditions and the centre provides the Forest School children with a variety of valuable skills and teachings during class.
“We have also partnered with Bruce Power to co-run educational programs in schools during Earth Week. We will be showcasing our new solar furnace we have built out of recycled materials,” says Val.
Day-to-day life at Forest School is extremely stimulating for the kids. Big discoveries like a moose carcass, a complete turtle skeleton are very formative, but the semi-annual mudslides the kids create seem to be what kids boast about the most when they debrief with parent at dinner.
“As for the mudslides, you simply have to see it to believe it,” says Val.
Success stories seem to be a daily occurrence, whether it’s a single child overcoming a physical, social, or emotional challenge for the first time, or the children working together and recognizing their ability, power and self-worth. Carlin, Deb and their staff are at the center of this empowerment.
A good reference about Forest Schools in Canada and the movement in general can be found at Child Nature and anyone wishing to learn more about the local Forest School in Grey-Bruce should visit www.atlastadventures.com/forest-schools.