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Education and environment: Calgary's nature kindergarten gets kids playing and learning outside

In Calgary's nature kindergarten program, kids spend most of their day outside, learning, playing and exploring.
Students at Calgary's nature kindergarten work on a fort made of sticks. (Ify Chiewetelu/CBC)
In a wooded area along the Elbow River, in Calgary's Parkhill Stanley Park neighbourhood, you will find trees, a beaver dam, owls, and a kindergarten class. 
Kids at Common Digs in action. (Facebook)

This is the site where Common Digs operates Calgary's nature kindergarten, a class that uses the outdoors as a secondary teacher. The students spend about 80 per cent of their time outside, all day in warmer weather, and in 30 minute increments when the temperature falls to -25 degrees.

When asked what excites her about teaching kindergarten in the great outdoors, Sayward Wilkinson Blanc said, "I think it's sharing my love of the outdoors with the children, and the sense of wonder that we have every single day. How many people get to say I go to work and I get to have joy and wonder every day? I think that's what it is for me."
Bug finding or science class? (Ify Chiewetelu/CBC)

She also talked about how quickly the kids picked up teamwork and problem-solving skills. When a recent flash hail storm blew in, Wilkinson Blanc said the whole class came together and quickly built a hail shelter to shield themselves from the elements.

For Wilkinson Blanc, teaching outside provides lots of opportunities for memorable moments her students wouldn't get in a typical classroom environment. 

"We were reading a story about great-horned owls, and as we were reading we heard this 'hoo' from the tree and we all look up, and a mother owl swoops over the top of our heads. That would not happen anywhere else."

A student at Common Digs explores her surroundings. (Ify Chiewetelu/CBC)

This piece originally aired in May, 2017.


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