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 Days, After School Programs, Camps, Workshops and have added two 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 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, 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.
Our Approach to Learning: THE COYOTE GUIDE
As a blueprint for our curriculum we use Jon Young; Evan McGown and Ellen Haas’ amazing book “Coyote’s Guide to connecting with Nature”. Its principles act as guide for our program development and over the course of our session we aim to touch on the following core teachings:
Hazards: A call to be Alert and Use Common Sense
Motivating Species: Things to Catch, Eat, Climb and Tend
Mammals: And other hard to see, yet totally trackable critters
Plants: Nature’s Grocery Store and Medicine Cabinet
Ecological Indicators: How it all works together
Heritage Species: Wisdom of the Ancestors
Trees: Tools of Human Survival
Birds: The messengers of the Wilderness
Expanding Sensory Awareness
Questioning and Tracking
Exploring Field Guides
Mind’s Eye Imagining
Story of the Day
Listening for Bird Language
While we do come into each day with 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
In addition to our Core Routines and Core Teachings, over the course of the year you can also expect your child will…
Go Outdoor Rock Climbing and Caving
Canoe and Paddle a Local River
Make Maple Syrup, from tapping the tree to boiling it down – the whole process at our Sugar Shack
Learn to Carve and use other Tools
Enjoy Wild Edibles and Plant ID
Hike and Snowshoe
Go Birding and Animal Tracking
Learn to create Fires and Outdoor Cooking
Go Fishing… and Ice Fishing
Go Skating on our pond
Go Orienteering, Geocache and learn Mapping
Overnight Campout (Older Groups)
Climb Trees and build Shelters and much more!
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 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! Get to know them better here.