Rather than embracing technology with smart boards and small screens in a climate-controlled classroom, the Road Less Travelled Academy is adopting a throw-back approach to early education, using nature as the backdrop and over-arching theme behind its curriculum.
It is the newest Forest School in Canada, and is set to open its doors to students aged four to six this fall. Based on an early childhood education trend in Europe, Forest Schools were first established in Denmark in the 1950’s and are gaining popularity across Europe and beyond, with several operating in Canada, including Ottawa, Calgary and southern British Columbia.
As their name suggests, forest schools take learning outside, using open-ended play activities commonly found in modern daycare and preschools where students can learn by counting trees, collecting leaves, observing plants and simply exploring the world around them.
The Ganaraska Forest will provide the backdrop to the new academy’s entire curriculum, where students will be immersed in the outdoor classroom, retreating to a small indoor space with a full kitchen and washrooms in a building beside the Ganaraska Forest Centre when required. Students will be led through a blend of outdoor and classroom exercises whose focus will be to engage and develop their curiosity, self-awareness and environmental consciousness through a wide variety of activities rooted in the natural world surrounding them. The experience has been described as a year-long field trip.
While indoor facilities are available, the intention is to have students spend most of their time outdoors, except when temperatures dip below -10 C or exceed 35C of when other dangerous weather conditions arise. The school calendar has been designed to avoid some of the more extreme weather, with significant breaks during the months of January and February with the school year ending July 12th.
The curriculum will build outdoor knowledge and skills, including environmental stewardship and conservation, plant and animal life, orienteering and survival skills. Within this outdoor environment, faculty will develop and direct activities to mirror the Ontario Core Curriculum and will work with students to help them master the key learning goals set out in each year’s curriculum. Using the forest environment, faculty will take a collaborative approach to learning activities, allowing students to take the lead by following their own curiosity to take ownership in their learning process and influence school programming.
While students influence activities, there will be experienced adults in charge, ensuring students take their ideas in helpful directions and challenging them to reach their potential. Academic direction will be provided by three full time staff during its first year of operation, where enrolment will be capped at twelve students.
Two of the three staff members are already in place. Tammy Day will bring her thirteen years’ experience as the owner/operator of a Montessori School in Newcastle to the new school. More recently she worked with seniors applying her skills in a long term care home where she developed and implemented popular intergenerational Montessori programming. Connor Als is an outdoor enthusiast with over 10 years of experience designing and implementing outdoor based programming in recreation and education settings, most recently as the Outdoor Education Coordinator at the Canadian Accredited Independent School St John’s Kilmarnock just outside Kitchener.
In addition to their full-time staff, the school intends to build partnerships with local residents and organizations to broaden the student experience as guests share their expertise in art, animal husbandry, horseback riding, yoga, gardening and other topics of interest to the students.
This new school will allow students to learn at their own pace and apply their creativity in a natural environment where problem solving will be made real as they learn to face challenges in weather, nature and social interactions. Founders believe that the personal freedom in the curriculum, controlled by the supervision of trained professionals, will encourage students to become independent, thoughtful and respectful individuals who appreciate and protect the natural environment.
For more information, visit: www.rltacademy.ca. KG