Home and Kitchen Diaries

Quite an eye-opener to send my kid to Nature School

When today’s norm is to limit interaction, our kids can develop their imagination—beyond their iPads

The Terra Nova Nature School is set in a beautiful heritage home built in the early 1900s within a National Park.

How to participate actively in the cultivation of a local food system is a valuable lesson at Nature School. It’s winter now so there’s not much to see in this organic vegetable patch, but when spring comes, the children will be able to witness the early buds of these natural wonders.

The author and daughter Iris at Nature School

“A school where children listen to the wind, throw pebbles in the water, and grow vegetables and flowers. Imagine a place where children run along the pathways, watch birds land and take flight, find feathers, climb atop tree stumps, lie in grassy fields, and gaze at clouds” – Terra Nova Nature School, British Columbia, Canada

BRITISH COLUMBIA—The first time I heard about Nature School, I immediately knew, without a doubt in my mind, that I wanted my four-year-old daughter Iris to experience it. How could I not let her? At a time in our lives where the new norm for most children is to limit social interaction and to be forced to learn online, the opportunity that this presented for her was, literally and figuratively, a breath of fresh air. And, as if the universe thought I might need an extra nudge, I found one just 10 minutes away by car from our home.

Nature School (or Forest School, as it’s commonly known in Europe) isn’t really a new thing. Its deepest roots go back centuries, and the very first one recognized started in 1952 in Denmark. The concept then slowly spread all across Europe, America, and eventually the rest of the world.

Even mega Manila, concrete jungle that it is, has this available for those who seek it. It’s something that I would highly encourage parents to consider when the pandemic situation gets safer. Filipino children, particularly those living in major cities, don’t get as much exposure to nature as they should, and it’s only gotten worse with the rollercoaster of lockdowns brought on by the incessant onslaught of COVID-19 variants.

My husband and I had to sign a conforme acknowledging that we understood the risks involved—like possible encounters with wild animals (OMG, right?)

I have to admit, as a person who was educated in a more traditional setting, the ethos of Nature Schooling can be quite unnerving, especially when my husband and I had to sign a conforme acknowledging that we understood the risks involved. Here in Canada, those risks include possible—but extremely rare—encounters with wild animals and the like. (OMG, right?)

I feel like we were more nervous than she was on her first day of this Nature School. It was a frigid 4°C and pouring, and it took all of my willpower not to follow her around with an umbrella. I could feel my husband’s nervous energy as the teacher took her hand (which Iris clasped without any hesitation!) and brought her along, followed by the rest of the class and their other teachers, towards the woods for a little walk in the rain.

As they walked away, I thought to myself, “Walking in the rain is such a little thing, but when was the last time you allowed yourself to do it? To really immerse yourself in the moment and enjoy it?”

There’s a lot of outdoor play in Nature School. This is important, not just because studies have shown that play time is one of the most effective ways children learn life skills and discover their interests, but also because being outside stimulates their imagination. They aren’t limited to just their store-bought toys and iPads. They play with sticks, pebbles, fallen leaves—whatever interests them. A stick may be just a stick for us grownups, but for a child, it can be many things: a wand, a paint brush, even a horse.

 I just love that my daughter is being encouraged to use her five senses to explore the natural world, with all its diverse elements sparking in her a sense of wonder.

There are many things one can learn in Nature School, including those from a more traditional setting (like pre-reading skills and Math concepts), but to me, what stands out the most is that they learn to value and recognize our natural resources, and to participate actively in the cultivation of a local food system. The knowledge is already planted in their minds, at their very tender age, that we are all part of a much larger community, and that they must learn to understand and respect their place alongside other living things in this world.

Instead of focusing on ‘me,’ our kids deserve a world where everyone helps each other become a better ‘we’

And it is this sense of empathy that I think the world needs more of now. We could use less of “How can this better benefit me,” and more of “How can I live with meaning and purpose to help the world around me?”

Teaching our kids about sustainability and the environment will help do that.  We spend so much time inside our homes these days and with such little socialization that it’s easy to forget that we share a much bigger world with so many other people. By letting them explore outside our tiny bubbles, even if it’s just through books, videos, or pictures, we can help them understand why we need to take care of our environment—and by extension, each other.

But if we can commit to carving out some time for a more direct experience, even just for a few minutes, hours, or days in the week, we can give our little ones a much richer appreciation for the world around us. You can do whatever is feasible given your circumstances, no matter where you are in the world. You only have to care enough to research how.

If there’s anything that living through this pandemic has taught us, it’s that the best gift we can give our kids is a change in perspective from what we’ve been used to. We grew up thinking that all we needed was to be the best versions of ourselves. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it misses the most important aspect of “being your best”: your “best self” is the version of you who cares about others. Instead of focusing on “me,” our kids deserve a world where everyone helps each other become a better “we.”

And sometimes, the best way to remind ourselves about that is to see our kids learn and play in this great big planet we share.

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