By Bob Groeneveld/Langley Advance Times
Children want to learn all the time, and playing is an expression of that desire to learn.
That is the understanding that underpins Langley Forest School, a “play-based school” that uses Williams Park as a classroom.
The children enrolled in the school spend virtually the entire day outdoors, learning “naturally” through play activities.
“They do climb trees and they do go into to water – we allow the things that parents often don’t allow anymore,” said Carol LaJeunesse who began volunteering with the school as a grandparent and has since bumped up her involvement to become president of the school’s board of directors.
Nature and the entire environment become ther classroom, she explained.
“They ask questions about what they see and find, and the teacher helps to answer them,” said LaJeunesse.
The teachers – there are two who work alongside a couple of parents with the 16 children in the program – may help to turn the children’s interests towards certain basic lines of inquiry, but the kids set the direction and pace of learning through their naturally inquisitive nature.
Although a particularly cold or miserable day might drive the kids indoors temporarily into a yurt set up in the park for them – “to warm up and then they’re back out again,” said LaJeunesse – they’re mostly outdoors “all day, every day.”
“There’s no such thing as bad weather,” LaJeunesse explained, “only bad preparation.”
Langley Forest School currently provides a preschool program of up to four days a week for children aged 3-5 years, and a Friday “outdoor experience days” (OED) program for ages 5-7.
The Friday programs are for children whose parents consider the outdoor experience superior to keeping them in a standard classroom for that day each week.
LaJeunesse said that “most” of the OED children are there also with the blessing of their normal classroom teachers.
The expectation is that the play-based approach to learning will help the “forest children” learn to love and respect all aspects of nature, while building a better understanding of themselves and their relationships to others, leading to “physical and mental health benefits.”
The program, tucked away in a corner of Williams Park, in a partnership between the children’s parents and the Township of Langley.
The yurt at the centre of the learning area was constructed as a cooperative effort, with the Township preparing the ground, parents building the base, and the yurt itself provided by Yurtz by Design.
A veranda added to the back provides the kids with a place to hang their coats as they enter, and a shed alongside the yurt houses a composting toilet to handle the children’s natural needs in that department.
The school maintains an active Facebook page at www.facebook.com/langleyforestschool/.