In Victoria, BC "Nature daycares" seemed to pop up out of no where in the past few years! Everyone's claiming to be a "Nature Daycare" it seems. But what exactly is a nature daycare? I don't have an answer....Sadly, nothing can stop any human being from opening up a new centre and calling it anything they might seem fit, or "pro-fit-able"! (Nature -Academy, Nature -Montessori, Nature- Reggio-style) This can make finding the right fit very difficult for parents! (and pretty frustrating when you start to see what these centres really look like... and ......."what exactly is their method of practise?"
When I explored "Nature Daycare" on my computer, I came across many centres which to me, don't LOOK like my vision of WHAT a nature- program might look like. I could be wrong... but I am now in my 20th year of practise, and I feel strongly about what "Nature daycare" truly means... but.... at this time, it's only a MISS-used name, not a method of practise.
Currently, we as educators are advocating for a higher standard of quality care. Challenging VIHA (Vancouver Island Health Authorities) is probably one of the best places to start questioning this (Nature-Naming).... disaster.
From what I understand about a parents expectations on this subject, I feel that I can safely say, that a nature daycare may include the following elements:
A large (natural) outdoor space to explore and form common-bonds with non-human species (moss, mushrooms, trees, insects, animals etc), free of brightly painted metal climbers but in a natural setting. (a forest, beach or ocean, a pasture, garden or natural park etc)
An indoor learning environment that supports each child's right to beautiful things, natural materials, (including light and objects), real-world situations, and child-led inquiries.
A place to grow food and learn through hands-on practise in a (real-working) garden.
Children should have real tools to work with, real shovels to dig with and educators surrounding them to encourage and support their (work)
Documentation of their work displayed on the walls, photography of the children in the centre (doing) this work, books to encourage a deeper understanding, magnifying glasses to take a closer look at things, adults eager to find out the answers.
A child-led inquiry based program.
Naturally made toys, garments, wools, craft materials, paints, papers, brushes readily available indoors for the children to use. Quality items which reflect the value we have for our children.
This post is my opinion of what I believe a nature daycare may look like here in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia.
Since we are comparing methods of practise, I will include a little run-down of what I know about some popular philosophies and methods of childcare.....
Firstly let's start with the Montessori Method. Founded in the early 1900's by Dr. Maria Montessori, this method of practise is very popular in Victoria. The fees are generally higher than most other programs as it is a (Private-school) program, where the students arrive in uniforms and the educators greet the children with a hand shake.
The pre-school program consists of many different skill building activities ranging from fine-motor skills (poking little pieces of carpet with tiny push pins while following the lines of a shape, to polishing silver-ware. (yes, the still do this) The lessons are pre-written (by Maria Montessori in the early 1900's) and the educators follow them to a T. (Their play is considered their "work" in school). The lessons are based on life-skills that children practise over and over again. (setting the tables, watering plants, folding dish cloths etc) The educators are to watch and observe with out interfering in the child's work. There is little instruction on what to do, they are encouraged to just "do".. The environment is pre-set, allowing the children around 3 hours to do the activities set up over and over again. They encourage independence. The schools are multi-aged allowing the older children and younger ones to be together in the same "working" environment. The educators are trained specifically in the Montessori method and any "new strategies or spontaneity" are not encouraged. The Montessori Method is proud to have a "zero-competition" practise. I couldn't find out much on the time the children spend outdoors our anything on their play grounds. Most of the programs for children under 5 years old are 3 - 4 hour long programs. (there are some full day programs as well)
The Waldorf Schools are an alternative form of education for families in BC, although not as easy to find. We have one in the Cowichan Valley I believe, but there are none in Victoria that I know of.It is very much a Private-school program with monthly/yearly fees. The Waldorf schools founded by Rudolph Steiner look at the world through an anthroposophical view and understanding of the human being: that is a being of body, soul and spirit. Typically the schools are set up very beautifully, using lots of natural objects, textiles and wools, and the use of colour and natural light when ever possible. The schools follow a curriculum completely different than the public schools, and an even greater focus is on the artistic elements, encouraging music, song, dance, rhythm and movement. The schools start at the pre-school age and go all the way through high school. Children who attend Waldorf schools are encouraged to build an understanding for different subjects out of what is most beautiful in the world! The educators encourage fantasy, imagination and (in the younger grades) may use gnome-like creatures to help children make sense of their world..... (so I'm told.) From what I understand, there is little adult supervision while the children are outdoors at play, and the children are encouraged to "work things out" between themselves.
Often a child will have the same teacher for many, many years in a row. (some from Kindergarten through until High school) This is called "looping". The use of any media for learning purposes (modern technology)is strictly prohibited in the classrooms and discouraged in the home after school hours as well...... the idea is to remain as holistic as possible at all times.
The Reggio Emilia philosophy was founded by teacher Loris Malaguzzi in war torn Reggio-Emilia, Italy in the early 1970's. It is here, where the towns people (women mostly) re-built their bombed city, brick by brick by starting with a school for their children in the very middle of their city. Loris Malaguzzi ( a very young teacher at the time) wanted the children's interests to guide the curricula. He believed that children must have endless ways and endless opportunities to express themselves however they wanted.
"A child has a hundred languages" ...he taught us.
Great attention is given to the look and feel of the classrooms (also referred to as the third teacher) through colour, plants, light, photographs and art work.The educators document the children's "work" through narrations (pedigogical), documentation, audio-tape, video and photography. The children's work is then displayed to make the children's learning visible. Projects are not planned in advance, but emerge based on the interests of the children. The children form relationships with the other children, their environment and the materials that surround them, through touching, moving, listening to by observing them. The families, educators and children work collaboratively with an emergent curriculum, following the lead of the child and expanding on the children's interests. Children are acknowledged as beautiful, powerful, competent, creative, curious beings full of potential and ambitious desire! Learning in the Reggio- way is not regarded as a linear process, but as a spiralling progression, always building, always moving in many directions.(wherever the child's thoughts and curiosity may take them!) Time is not set by the clock on the wall in the Reggio classroom. There is always (time) to finish a game, paint a picture, continue with a project they are intently focused on.
The Reggio-Emilia approach to early childhood education reflects a theoretical kinship with John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Vygotsky and Jerome Bruner, among others.
***There are no ACTUAL Reggio-Emilia schools here in BC simply because you can not duplicate that-which is ITALY..... we do however use term like, Reggio-inspired, Reggio Influenced and following a Reggio-style philosophy.
Forest schools exist mostly in the UK (including Denmark, Switzerland and Norway), but they are very different than our "nature" schools here in BC. A couple of years ago, the Sooke School District introduced Canada's first Nature- Kindergarten to the public school system. The children spend the first half of their day outside wandering and exploring the forests of Royal Roads University, and the last part of their day in the classroom. Not all of the Forest schools in the above countries have an indoor space. The children simply eat, sleep and play in their outdoor environment daily.
The philosophies behind the forest school program are based on the child's primitive desires to be outdoors in nature. The benefits of being outdoors in nature are extensive. Health benefits that arise from an environment that challenges physical ability, including fine and gross motor skills. Developing a deep respect and love for nature. Developing a sense of self, increasing confidence in one's abilities, sharing new adventures daily with peers and educators.Although, research is still being documented, studies are showing that children with diverse abilities, such as ADHD and Autism, are finding the outdoor classroom much more calming with the lack of four walls, sound is less over-whelming to their often sensitive ears.
Authentic Nature daycares are much different all together here in Canada. You can take an 8 month Forest school training program in Ontario which will then allow you to use the title of an accredited Forest School, but I know of zero schools in BC or educators that actually have this training. I use the term "nature-Immersion" to describe the programs I offer. Immersing the children in nature, allowing them the time and the freedom to explore their surroundings is what I am a strong advocate for. If you watch the Forest school utube videos, you can see that alot of the activities the children are doing in the program we do as well here in BC. (Teaching the children to use a knife has yet to be explored, and at this time VIHA does not allow us to have open fires with children.... (I am hoping to challenge these things) as both are life-skills I feel that can be taught and learned safely.
The educators are dressed appropriately and so are the children which is key to a successful day in the elements! Typically, the children are outside more than they are inside. That's what we strive for. In our weather system, unfortunately the rain can get the better of us, and our rain gear (muddy-buddies) often are still drenched by our afternoon outdoor play, despite our greatest efforts in drying them!
As well, Lexie's Little Bears is the ONLY Infant/Toddler Nature-Immersion program in Victoria (that I know of to date) so we are paving the way to what (nature-daycare) might look like here in BC!
Providing an indoor space that mimics the outdoors is also a key factor in nature-immersion. In our centres, there is very little plastic.... period. We avoid plastics as much as possible. You will however, find a lot of wood, natural light, comfy spaces to sit and relax, smells of herbs or essential oils in the diffusers, real plants, hand made toys and relaxing music...... The cubby area is located outdoors on the front porch, to help keep the centre clean. An additional room with a large heater is used for the days the muddy-buddies just won't dry on their own!
In my opinion, taking all the really great elements from all the different philosophies and methods and combining them into a (best of the best) program is what parents are asking for..... a little taste of everything great.....
Having a garden readily available to grow vegetables and flowers, feeding the wild birds with our feeders, exploring the natural materials we find outdoors, opening up communication about what the children are interested in, and documenting everything with photography..... that's what I am striving for in our daily practise!!
If anything, I feel that I can proudly say, that I am always learning and growing as an educator. I have much to do yet.....
In April I will be travelling to Reggio-Emilia Italy to practise under a work study in the renowned Loris Malaguzzi International school.
I have so much to learn.....
What will this new perspective bring to my centres here in BC?
How will this challenge my beliefs, my practise, my views on children and quality of care?
Will this change my thoughts on who I am in the lives of children?
What is my current image of a competent child, and will this image change?
What are the differences/similarities that they practise in Italy compared to Canada?
......... and how can I possibly absorb as much as possible in my short stay?
This will be continued......
As always, thank you for reading,
"Trust our children- they are not only our future, they are our present."
This beautiful photo is of one of our educators who was pregnant at the time. The children engaged in a hands-on activity to cast a plaster mold over her belly, and then drew pictures of her afterwards.....
For the LOVE of paint! Allowing children the freedom to learn and explore through touch!