Norfolk Forest School is a place for children to learn about life skills and respecting their environment.
The program is part of Nature’s Calling Environmental Education, co-founded by Bernie Solymár and Colleen Dale.
Forest School began in 2016 as a week-long program with six children. Now, there are 65 children, with a maximum of 16 attending each day.
“It is inquiry-based, which means if they find something they’re interested in it’s not our job to tell them what it is, it’s their job to figure it out,” said Solymár. “It gets their minds thinking, we feel that they’re learning by doing.”
The program has three paid educators to keep the groups at a one to six ratio of educators to children.
“We play here, and all day if we want to choose something to learn about, they get us to learn about it,” said six-year-old Charlotte Fitzgerald.
Being outside in all seasons, building a connection with the land, and taking the learning wherever the children want it to go is the goal of the program.
“It’s really dictated by them, we don’t have a curriculum,” said Dale. “We support the play and the learning. Forest School is this play space, they’re coming back season after season. They build a strong connection to the space, the land, and to each other.”
Solymár added that most of the children that attend are home-schooled, but some go to traditional schools and have their principal’s permission to attend Forest School one day a week.
Ages seven to 11 meet together at the campgrounds on Mondays, with the three- to six-year-olds meeting Tuesdays through Fridays.
The older group is able to learn life skills such as fire making, shelter building, and archery while they’re participating in the program.
Currently, the program is being run at Ryerson Camp near Normandale. There is one spot open for Thursdays, which is the ages three to six group.
The only requirement for young children to register is that they are out of diapers. The program costs $55 a day, per child.
“Once they’ve been here, what parents tell us, is Number 1 they fall asleep on the way home, and Number 2 that evening they’re already asking when they can go to Forest School next,” said Solymár. “Which for us is a good sign, they’re excited to come back.”
Solymár, executive director at the program, also works full time as the executive director for Asparagus Farmers of Ontario. He has an honours bachelor of science in agriculture from the University of Guelph, and a master’s in biology from Brock University.
Dale has an early childhood educators certificate from Fanshawe College, a diploma in ecosystem management from Sir Sandford Fleming College, and a certification from Forest Schools Canada as a forest school practitioner.
For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Natures Calling website.