The forest plays such a vital role in Corner Brook’s past, present and future, Jacqueline Bennett wants to instill a stronger connection with it in young people.
Being a Level 2 early childhood educator and an avid hiker who spends virtually every weekend out in the woods, she is combining those passions to start the Sapling Forest School.
A forest school is a learning environment set up in a wooded area that encourages children to explore the forest. The idea for her school is to let the children play on their own and then encourage them to take their piqued interest in the environment to another level.
“Children have such a wild imagination and curiosity and I’ll be a nurturer of that,” she said.
She plans to have a longer-term program in place for next summer and to eventually expand into the winter. For this summer, Bennett will be offering forest day camps for a two-week period. Running from July 23-27 and from July 30 to Aug. 3, the camps will be held at a site Bennett is developing at the Blow-Me-Down Trails.
While it will be play-based and child-led, Bennett does have activity plans and will have various stations set up to help children find something that interests them.
She has thoroughly checked her site for any potential risks and playing safely will be among the crucial lessons at the forest school. There will also be visible boundaries at the site that will ensure the participants are contained within a defined area at all times.
“It won’t be a free-for-all, although to the child it will feel like it,” Bennett said of the outdoor classroom.
The entire program, including lunch break, will be outside.
“When parents send their children to forest school, they can expect them to come home muddy and full of grass stains,” she said.
Bennett is working with the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada and Forest School Canada, two affiliated organizations that focus on outdoor learning experiences, and will be certified through a forest school practitioner course they offer.
Bennett spent some time last year training at the Cloudberry Forest School already established in St. John’s.
She feels western Newfoundland is the perfect setting for a similar school.
“We forget there is so much wilderness around us,” she said. “I think educating children about the forest will help protect it and promote it in the long run.”
For anyone wanting more information about the Sapling Forest School, contact Jacqueline Bennett in any of these ways:
Facebook: Sapling Forest School