An outdoor school is coming to Langley in September.
At the final board of education meeting of 2016, the school district announced the development of an Outdoor Education Program for students in kindergarten to Grade 2.
It’s expected that parents will be able to register students in late February or early March, after the Langley School District provides information sessions for those who are interested. The sessions will take place in late January and February.
“The parent-student information meetings are vital and registration is required to gauge who is interested,” said Langley administrator Barry Bunyan, director of human resources who is part of the team organizing the outdoor program along with a core group of educators.
“Parents may have an idea of what outdoor school is about, but in reality it may not be that.
“Kids will be outside 60 per cent of the time, even if it’s raining.”
The benefits of learning in nature are profound, research has found.
Parkside Elementary teacher Carleigh Smart taught at the K to 7 outdoor school in Maple Ridge for five years and is part of the team organizing the outdoor program in Langley.
“Just taking kids outside in any amounts, whether it be once a week, you can immediately see the growth in reading, writing and math,” she told trustees.
Teacher Amanda Slade, who sits on the outdoor school committee, said another benefit of learning outdoors is the stewardship for the Earth that intrinsically happens.
“We see the care and the respect for nature they have,” she said.
Uplands Elementary teacher Ashlee Harder said she has experienced so many benefits to learning outdoors.
“We have been building alphabet books using materials around us, like sticks, rocks,” she said.
“One of the huge benefits of being outdoors is students learn endurance, engage in risk taking. There are huge life lessons that nature provides us.”
Three potential school sites have been identified to act as a base for the program — Nicomekl Elementary, Parkside or Fort Langley Elementary. Although, it is still unclear where most of the teaching will take place, whether it be in Langley parks as the main hub or based out of the school.
The hope is to fill two classrooms in the first year, said Bunyan.
But the hope is that the outdoor program will encourage and show other teachers how to incorporate their teaching outdoors.
All the teachers on the team agreed that a combined class of Kindergarten and Grades 1 and 2 together can be very beneficial for role models, leadership and growth.
“Kids aren’t constrained by grades,” said Smart.
An outdoor program would incorporate the complete B.C. curriculum with learning taking place outdoors in the natural environment as much as possible.
Students will be encouraged to explore, investigate and interact with natural settings and will be given the opportunity to develop a deep connection to those places.
Educators and students will ultimately shape the educational experience within their surroundings. Already, the committee has worked with the chiefs of Kwantlen and Katzie First Nations to create partnership opportunities.
The team has also worked with Metro Vancouver Regional Parks.
Students could spend time at Derby Reach, Aldergrove and Campbell Valley Regional Parks.
“We’ve seen great interest in outdoor education when it was offered as part of our summer session and there has definitely been a lot of interest from our parent community to explore the possibilities,” said acting superintendent Gord Stewart.
The outdoor program will be open to all Langley School District students in K-2.
With sufficient interest, the program may grow to include higher grades in the future.