Nature primary program redefines the classroom

Christine Wood/Staff Writer / Staff writer
February 8, 2014 01:00 AM

Nature primary student Gaia Molnar-Hall writes in her journal while resting on a tree beside the Chapman Creek trail.

Forests, creeks, beaches and meadows aren't normally considered classrooms, but they've become regular places of learning for nature primary students at Davis Bay Elementary School.

The 33 nature primary students in kindergarten to Grade 3 have been involved in the nature program since its inception last September and teachers are praising the new curriculum.

"An ever-growing body of research affirms that children who grow up playing and learning in ways and spaces closely connected to the natural world grow up to develop habits of mind and ways of being that demonstrate sincere respect for their environment and the creatures in it," said nature primary program teacher Linda Russell.

"It affirms that these 'nature kids' develop greater self-esteem, confidence, resilience, resourcefulness and creativity. Most teachers also know that when the subject of children's learning is real and relevant to them, they don't need a further invitation to investigate. Personally I believe that learning is usually richer outside of classroom walls."

She and fellow nature primary teacher Jenny Groves take students outside daily from morning until lunch for experiential learning opportunities at places like Davis Bay beach, Mission Point Park or the Chapman Creek trails.

The mornings outside make for more attentive students in the afternoon when they return to portable classrooms dubbed the cocoon and the hive.

"After a morning outside, 30 minutes of math indoors later on is met with eyes wide open, eagerness and clear thinking," Russell said. "I am amazed how quickly the children engage and pick up new concepts."

Nature primary students are taught all the same subjects other primary students learn, however the order in which they learn could vary because teachers take advantage of whatever learning opportunity presents itself.

"Place-based, experiential learning is at our philosophical core, and it demands some flexibility because places we visit constantly surprise us," Russell noted.

Principal Sally Thicke is pleased with the program, which she believes provides deeper connections for students than what's traditionally found in classrooms.

She wanted to bring the nature primary program to Davis Bay Elementary School because she saw the benefit of outdoor learning in her own life.

"Some of my own richest experiences have been learning in nature and in environmental programs," she said. "My desire was to find a way that every day would be rich outside and experiential for the kids. I think they are healthier and are developing more grit and know deeply what's around them."

To find out more about the nature primary program or to register a primary student for the upcoming school year, come to an information evening about the nature primary program on Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. at Davis Bay Elementary School.

More information can also be found at or by calling the school at 604-885-9523.

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