Outdoor kids club helps Regina students combat isolation
A Nature Regina volunteer had the idea for the program after seeing her own children isolated
Elizabeth Mile holds a small bone in the grasp of tiny red tweezers as her younger sister, Chloe Mile, examines it with an oversized green magnifying glass.
The two girls discuss the six-and-a-half centimetre bit of what might have been a seagull — it's gross, it's cool, it's weird, it was probably some other animal's lunch.
"We don't know what it's from, but then we also found some feathers with the bone," Elizabeth said.
It's all part of the Get Outside Outdoor Adventures 'Kids Club' hosted by Nature Saskatchewan and Sask Outdoors. The club brings together children — at a distance — to combat the isolation that comes with learning at home. It's held every Wednesday and changes locations every two weeks.
"I have a lot of friends, and so it was kind of just weird not to be around them," Elizabeth said. "And so now it feels … back to normal now that there's a bunch of kids around me."
It's a familiar sight for the organizers.
"When [the students] are out in nature, they can just be themselves. It's the most beautiful experience," Shannon Chernick, youth engagement co-ordinator with Nature Regina, said.
The idea for the Kids Clubs started after Chernick talked with the Regina Public School Board about her children in French immersion. Her kids are currently learning from home and Chernick wanted them to have more engagement with others.
After conversations with Lacey Weekes of Nature Saskatchewan and Leah Japp of Sask Outdoors, the Kids Club was born. Within 12 hours of being announced, the first event was full.
"Being outside right now is so important. Spending time outside just gives you a break from COVID. You're just not thinking about the fact that we are in a worldwide pandemic," Chernick said.
Children collected leaves, looking at the fractals on the back, and planted a few seeds.
"I just like being out in nature because it's fun and it's fun to learn about new things," Chloe said.
She said she wants to be a scientist to learn more and get to be outside. She said It was exciting to be around more children once again.
"I really hope that I get to come again," Chloe said.
Those connections to others are important for kids learning at home, Chernick said.
"I've had parents in tears because they've said, 'This is the first time that my child has been outside safely with other kids since March.' So it's just it's providing such an important experience."
Part of the program is in French. Joe Marche, a retired French teacher, helps translate.
Leah Japp, the general manager of Sask Outdoors and main administrator for the Kids Club program, said the response has been phenomenal. She said sometimes parents and teachers need a bit of support to get outside.
"They know how important it is for kids to get outside and spend time in nature, kids and adults, but they don't necessarily know how to do that or what to do when they go outside," Japp said.
Japp said it's key for parents to step outside with their kids, even if they aren't in the club.
"It's been a really isolating six months for a lot of people," she said. "Kids are curious, they're adventurous, you can easily set up some safe parameters if you're worried about wandering off."
Emmett Jimenez Wilson examined a tiny yellow flower with his own green magnifying glass. Looking at it closely, he said he now sees very small seeds that could create more flowers in the future.
"We've had a wonderful time on the trail," Marilyn Wilson, Emmett's grandmother, said.
The group completely filled a white container with a pinecone, seeds, leaves and more.
"I liked playing with the helicopter [seeds]," Emmett's younger sister Lucia Jimanez Wilson said.
The program is currently unfunded and mainly being run by Chernick volunteering her time, she said. She hopes a donor may step up so they could continue to meet multiple times a week and provide activities for kids all school year long — even through the winter months.
"It doesn't really matter that it's winter in Saskatchewan. We are going to need connection and we are going to need to be outside," Chernick said. "We are definitely in this for the long haul."
Families can register their children at saskoutdoors.org.