At the forefront, Free Spirit Forest and Nature School is a place where we nurture connection with self, others and the Natural world. We are a not-for-profit, community-based program that provides outdoor educational and experiential programs for children aged 4-12 where students join us one day a week.
Our roots began in 2016 in Collingwood. We began with 1 day a week and quickly grew. Within two years, we were running 5 days a week of core programming and now run PA Day and Weekend programs, Camps, Workshops and have multiple new locations. Our school operates during regular school hours and we spend the majority of the day outside, immersed in nature regardless of the weather or the season, where learning is unhurried. We have small student to teacher ratios, with a curriculum that is largely emergent, student-led and play-based. And while we do have core routines and teachings, our focus is to find the spark in each child and tend to that to help it grow.
Our mission is to foster rich outdoor learning experiences for children ages 18m-12+ using a whole-child approach that will not only develop a deeper connection with nature, but also a sense of belonging in nature.
Our vision is for each child to connect to nature in meaningful way. It is a place where we understand that play and learning are synonymous. As a complement to our traditional school system, we would like to see all children in local forests, creeks, beaches, and mountains, with a skilled educator who understands the power of play and child-directed, emergent-learning. Moreover, how this connects to community building and a more sustainable world.
The benefits of FNS are endless and help develop the whole-child: socio-emotional, physical, and cognitive skills. It allows education in a different context where children can carry out a range of practical, achievable activities. Going along with our values and principles, researchers have found that children continually engaged in outdoor settings typically experience an increase in their confidence; capacity to learn (motivation, understanding and concentration); communication, problem-solving and social skills; physical literacy and emotional well-being. There is also a ripple effect through the community with children bringing what they have learned, and are passionate about, home and to their social networks.
"We've seen so much growth. She has learned so much that we could never have taught her ourselves. We go for a hike - she eats food in the forest. It's been fabulous."
"Everyday he asks 'how many more sleeps until Forest School?'"
While we come into each day with a plan, as an emergent-based, student-led program it is difficult to have a set schedule. With child passions at the forefront, new opportunities and changing weather it’s hard to say what each day will bring! We strive to accomplish our core routines and reflections every day, but otherwise we could be building shelters one day, while another day could see us uncovering critters in a pond. We may be rock climbing, or paddling a river, or jumping into the role of a busy bee pollinating flowers. Maybe it’s maple syrup, orienteering, bird watching or trees – our day follows student-led interests. That being said, a typical day would unfold like this:
8:45 AM: Arrive – Exploratory Play, Tinkering, “Inspiration of the Day”
10:00 AM: Opening Circle (Check-in, Song and Gratitude)
10:30 AM: Snack
After Snack: Exploration/Experiential Learning
12:30-1ish PM: Lunch and Exploratory Play
1:15 PM: Exploration/Lessons Continued
3:00 PM: Wrap-up – “Story of the Day” (Debrief)
3:30 PM: Pick-Up
We spend our days in the woods and creeks, where children learn through their own exploration – and it’s developmentally appropriate! Keeping it local gives students an appreciation of all the wonders of their own backyards. As we immerse our learning-community in the same outdoor settings on a regular basis, students develop a lasting connection with (and respect for) nature.
Our passionate team of mentors are deeply rooted nature-connected individuals. They are typically Forest School Practitioners, Ontario Certified Teachers, and/or Early Childhood Educators, all with specializations in Outdoor and Experiential Education – although we do highly value lived experience as well!
At FNS, children are viewed as competent and capable learners engaged in their own process. Thus, the traditional role of the teacher is re-written. This involves guidance and support and allows children the space, time and opportunity to explore their own interests. In brief, the facilitator sparks engagement, keeps everyone safe, builds community, and draws out learning – but also knows when to just get out of the way and let it happen! In it’s simplest form, our mentors are story catchers and question askers.
Questions? Contact Us!