No bells, no classrooms: outdoor school in Interior B.C. bringing kids back to nature

A new elementary school with a focus on learning outdoors has opened its doors in Salmon Arm, B.C., and parents are scrambling to sign up.

The public school still follows B.C. curriculum but through a different lens

Students during their second day at South Canoe Elementary, learning the earth's rotation outside. (School District 83/Twitter)

A new elementary school with a focus on learning outdoors has opened in Salmon Arm, B.C., and parents are scrambling to sign up.

South Canoe Elementary is an "outdoor school" that spans from kindergarten to Grade 6, part of School District 83 in the North Okanagan-Shuswap region.

More than 100 students have enrolled for this year and others are on the growing wait list.

Principal Isabelle Gervais said an outdoor school is like any other and will follow the full B.C. curriculum. "We're just doing it through the nature's lens."

Some of the learning areas in the South Canoe community from farms to trails to ponds. (Submitted by Ceren Caner)

'Healthy environment'

The public school still uses a main building as a base. Because it's set in a rural area surrounded by trails and trees, it sends students outside for up to 85 per cent of the time, depending on the weather.

Right now, heading into fall, students are outdoors between 30 to 50 per cent of the time, Gervais said, and being outside so much improves their general wellbeing.

Two students from South Canoe Elementary examine a grasshopper. (Submitted by Isabelle Gervais)

The teachers lead the classes outdoors, following the same curriculum as other schools in the district, but incorporate elements of nature to drive the lessons home.

In a typical day, the students can go from exploring a nearby creek for a science lesson to heading out on field trips throughout the neighbouring communities.

"We just feel like that it's a healthy environment for kids," Gervais told Chris Walker, the host of CBC's Daybreak South.

"When they are writing or doing some of the academics, they tend to be more focused."

The dragonfly is the school's metaphor for curiosity, resilience and beauty. (Submitted by Ceren Caner )

Even inside the building, there are no set classrooms — just open workshop spaces that teachers book.

The day begins with the banging of a drum, rather than the typical ringing bell, to gather students in the field for any announcements.

"Then students go off with their teachers," Gervais said.

The outdoor education program uses a building as a base, but students spend much of the time outside. Even inside the school, there are no classrooms. (Submitted by Ceren Caner )

"The community here has been very receptive about us using their creeks, their ponds and forested areas."

If the school continues to prove popular, she said, there is a possibility of expanding and adding a few grades up.

A new elementary school just opened its doors in Salmon Arm, B.C. and the push to get students outside learning has parents scrambling to sign up. 4:21

With files from Daybreak South.

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