by Karen Murphy Corr, Contributor
Next fall the kindergarten students at St. James and St. Ann’s School (SJSA) will be adding rubber boots, rain pants and a hooded raincoat to their required uniform as the Catholic school becomes the first Abbotsford elementary school to launch outdoor kindergarten.
“Children spend more and more time in front of the TV and playing video games; they have lost their connection with nature. We know from health research and statistics that children of this generation are less physically active and less fit,” explains Terri Sask, principal at the parochial school that celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
She is excited for SJSA to become the first school in Abbotsford and the first Catholic school in the province to pilot an outdoor education program as part of the daily curriculum.
“Being in the outdoors helps children focus. We are blessed in Abbotsford with the perfect environment for this type of program.”
Outdoor or “forest” schools started in Germany nearly 50 years ago, spreading throughout Europe in primary and preschool settings. Now these “rain or shine” schools can be found in Australia, the UK, the U.S. and New Zealand.
In B.C., children are heading outside daily to learn in a North Vancouver preschool and from kindergarten to Grade 5 in the Maple Ridge school district. The Sooke school district will be offering a nature kindergarten for the 2012/13 school year as well.
Research indicates the children of outdoor schools do well later in their school studies, and benefit from the experience in a variety of ways.
The children will spend a minimum of two hours each school day in the fresh air, supervised by school personnel and parent volunteers.
Every element of the kindergarten curriculum is going to be explored outside against the backdrop of the Fraser Valley mountains, say organizers, as the children roam the school grounds, nearby Fishtrap Creek and the Discovery Trail and further afield.