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'Wild' program gives preschool kids an early dose of outdoor learning

Wild Roots Nature-Based Early Childhood Family Collaborative has been running since 2018

As an educator and parent, Andrea Welz has felt that connections to nature were an important part of human development and a way to foster an ecological consciousness.

After visiting a Waldkindergarten (forest kindergarten) in Germany in 2008 she narrowed her focus to nature-based early learning approaches. She visited a variety of programs in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Scotland and Germany to gain further knowledge and insight. After that, she completed her Forest School and Nature Kindergarten, training with Claire Warden Inc. in Scotland. Then she completed her Masters in Education with a thesis researching the experiences of early childhood educators while running a trial nature based program.

"I wanted to explore how a nature-based program could be offered under the Child Care and Early Years Act and that led to an implementation of the preschool program," said Welz.

The first preschool program for Sault Ste. Marie ran in the spring of 2018 from St. Katari Outdoor Learning Centre, formerly known as Camp Korah. The Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board facility is located at the top end of Goulais Avenue.

"I would say that there is an explosion of interest in nature-based early childhood programs in North America and each is uniquely developed based on the needs of children, families, culture and the land. Ours is based on the experiences I’ve had and has been shaped by our local context," said Welz.

Wild Roots Nature-Based Early Childhood Family Collaborative is a program run by Little Lions Waldorf Child and Family Centre. 

"We are providing programs for children under 5," said Welz. "Our preschool program is licensed under the Child Care and Early Years Act."

Two new parent and child programs have been added. In addition to the current preschool program is a program for young children under 2.5 years of age with their parents known as Wild Discoveries, and a program for young infants with their parents known as Wild Beginnings. These programs are fall and spring seasonal.

"We are a collaborative and hope to build a community where we are attentive to the voices of those participating," said Welz. "For the preschool program – adults are scheduled (1-2 per month) to help out with the program. They need to complete a few requirements and an orientation before taking on their role as a facilitator. For the two new programs – adults join their children for each session. And children come to play!"

Attending international environmental education conferences, including participation in wild teaching concept conferences has helped Andrea expand perspectives. She continues to seek out new opportunities to broaden her understanding about this exciting approach to early learning.

There will be an information session on Wednesday from 3:30 - 6:30 p.m. at St. Katari, 1539 Goulais Avenue. You can also reach Welz by email.

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About the Author: Violet Aubertin

Violet Aubertin is a photograher and writer with an interest in Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma's great outdoors
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