Two weekends ago, a dozen parents camped out for days on Sangster school property for a chance to have their child accepted into SD 62’s nature Kindergarten program.
Now amid its second year, nature K was launched in 2012 as part of the answer on how to reconnect kids with the outdoors, and anecdotally at least, it seems to be working.
Sangster elementary teachers Adina McIndoe and Michelle James say there isn’t much difference between students in the classroom, but take them into the nearby forest at Royal Roads University and it’s a different story.
“All the students have settled in and it’s hard to tell who’s who,” McIndoe said. “But, when we go out in the forest then you can tell who was in nature Kindergarten. My students who were in nature K are interested in going outside and are very comfortable there.”
The program has 22 coveted seats, split evenly between boys and girls, and with two set aside for First Nations students. Parents who camp out are mainly competing for boys spots.
Parents expect their child will be at ease in the woods and on the beach, and that appears to be the case. The teachers note that students with nature K under their belt bring with them a new and somewhat advanced vocabulary including, “scavenger” and “predator.” At five or six years old, they can identify and name plants and trees.
“They are the first to tell us all about different plants they find,” James said. “They are very well-spoken when it comes to nature and they have a lot of respect for it.”
The transition from K to Grade 1 can be tough for any kid, but for students at Sangster this year, it was a bit rougher due to seismic upgrade construction.
McIndoe’s class was held in the library and James’ class was in a temporary classroom, but in December both teachers moved their students into permanent classrooms.
“Grade 1 is always a transition for students” said Sangster principal Maureen Lauren, who was a Grade 1 teacher for 22 years. “At the beginning of the year we have extra hands-on play time,” to help with the transition.
Kindergarten is more about learning through play and Grade 1, students learn to read, write, add and subtract.
The outcomes of nature K are being studied and compiled by professors and graduate students from University of Victoria and Camosun College, and part of that work is looking at the transition to Grade 1.
Results are expected this fall, and Frances Krusekopf who spearheaded nature K in the Sooke School District, expects results in line with what Grade 1 teachers are witnessing.
“There has been research in Europe for children from forest preschools to normal regular schools,” said Krusekopf, currently the principal of Colwood elementary. “Those studies have shown the children (in Europe) transition as well if not better than other students.”
For more on SD62’s nature K program, see naturekindergarten.sd62.bc.ca.