Blog by Jenn Whittaker (with Tony Reddin)
Sierra Club's Wild Child PEI is sad to say that nature immersion visits have finished for the summer- over 30 visits to 15 child care centres in Charlottetown, Summerside and Montague! These were wonderful experiences for me and the centre workers to let children explore, run free and unleash their inner curiosity about the world around them.
Through the eight weeks I was able to visit new and also previously visited child-care centres, who all had wonderful words for the work we've done with them. It was encouraging to see such an enthusiastic response of how valuable they see our Sierra Club Wild Child program.
Every adventure has been outside of their normal play equipment area but still close by. Children were encouraged to explore low on the forest floor and high into the treetops, underneath logs and on top of leaves. For the first session we focused on trees and discovered different types of trees, that some animals use trees for shelter, and all sorts of tree seeds. We also observed how trees are different or similar to us and how dead trees can be just as important as live trees. When kids found leaves, pieces of bark, pine cones and seeds, they tried to find where they might have came from. Sometimes we discovered they travelled very far away via wind, animals and water!
With each visit, I was continually amazed and surprised by the eagerness in the children and the surprise in their educators about the nature that surrounds them. I realized early on, it is best to have only a loose plan for the day and to let the short time we have flow naturally based on the children’s interest. The feeling when a child squeals with excitement at finding a new insect, discovering the name of a plant or finding signs of life in unexpected places is reason enough for us to continue visiting as many child-care centres as we can.
It is important to me that children can see, feel, hear, and smell that we are not separate from nature but that we are constantly immersed in it even if we forget sometimes. We are surrounded by buildings, fences and cars on a daily basis and it my hope that children can appreciate the small undisturbed patches of nature even more from this experience. At the end of each lesson, we closed our eyes and tried to listen to sounds we might have missed during our activities. This was a great way to reflect on the day and think about what we saw, touched or smelled in a different way. The kids are eager to tell you what they can hear whether it is the airplane overhead, the rustling of the trees or a bird they didn’t notice before but if you wait patiently, the students will close their eyes and the chattering becomes silent and a sense of calm can be seen on their faces as they immerse themselves once again.
The visits from Wild Child PEI would not be possible without support from the Canadian Wildlife Federation, the PEI Preserve Company and other generous donors.
Operating on a minimal budget, the PEI Wild Child Program has for two years been given, free of charge, at over 35 Early Learning Centres and After-school Programs in central PEI, reaching over 800 children from ages 2 to 11, of all walks of life. (Those Centres are under-funded and not able to pay for Wild Child). We estimate that to deliver Wild Child it costs us about $200 per centre.
We want to expand to many more Centres right across PEI, and we want to do 'family days' in the spring and summer of 2017 (to further help parents counter 'nature deficit disorder', and become more familiar with wild spaces, both in natural areas and in backyards). We are also working to promote the inclusion of 'Nature Immersion' in the PEI Schools Curriculum.
Through individual donations, special events and other fundraising run by volunteers, we need to raise at least $20,000 each year to cover the bare cost of a part-time educator, plus travel expenses.
Whatever you can provide will be very much appreciated!
More details about PEI Wild Child nature immersion program:
- Designed to strengthen the “outdoors” component of child care services,
- Developed by Sierra Club in response to the growing body of research showing that children need experiences in the natural world for healthy physical and mental development, addressing the issue of 'nature deficit disorder', where increasingly children are disconnected from nature in their day-to-day lives.
- Our educator follows a child-centered approach that inspires creative play while helping to deepen a child's knowledge and appreciation of nature- inspiring wonder, encouraging empathy and good mental health, developing confidence and cooperation, and learning new skills.