You’ve likely heard of forest school, an outdoor education delivery model in which students visit natural spaces to learn various skills, and we’re sure you’re familiar with some of the benefits of outdoor learning, but did you know this exciting addition is coming to Ganon Preschool at the Soloway JCC?
“We’re pretty excited about it,” said school director Reesa Shinder. “We’re on such a beautiful campus.”
Throughout the pandemic, students and teachers alike made outside learning happen in their shared space on campus.
“It was hard to find an area just for us,” said Shinder. “Every day they’d go for walks, see the gardens, but the teachers kept asking for a space of our own.”
When Shinder realized funding the space might be possible through the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s microgrant program, they applied and received $2,500. Microgrants are Federation’s lowest-barrier grants, which seek to build affinity and support Jewish life in Ottawa.
“Federation is genuinely about building community. These grants are purposeful because they allow individuals to take ownership of what Jewish life in Ottawa looks like,” said Anne Read, Director of Community Collaboration at the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. “This year, for the first time since microgrants started in 2019, we allocated the entire microgrant budget of $70,000 — even topping it up with an additional $7,500, to ensure projects like Ganon’s could be realized. It’s amazing! We live in such an engaged and creative Jewish community!”
“Now we can create a space for the children to learn outside,” said Shinder, who shared that the planned space will be on the right side of the SJCC building near the outdoor pool. “So much of the Jewish holidays tie into nature, harvesting, and knowing about plants.”
Ontario’s Discovery Child program, which oversees numerous forest schools in the province, says that outdoor learning comes with improved confidence, social skills, communication, motivation, and concentration; along with improved physical stamina, fine and gross motor skills. In addition, their research shows it creates positive identity formation for individuals and communities.
Shinder agrees, adding that there are many additional benefits to outdoor learning
“Learning about the world around them helps children envision what the world is about,” she said. “It helps a lot with children with exceptionalities who find being confined to a classroom really difficult. It allows them space to run and be free and learn at their own pace.”
Shinder said part of the plan is to do planting together in the fall that will bloom in the spring.
“We want to get some child-sized picnic tables to use, gross motor equipment to help improve muscle tone, and then some cognitive toys as well. Come spring and once the weather gets nicer we’ll plant vegetables and flowers together.”
Even though the Ganon teachers are off for the summer, they’re constantly sending Shinder plans and ideas for the space, including making sure the entire community benefits as well. In fact, once the space is fully developed, there will be opportunities for other programs to use the outdoor classroom as well.
“We want our space to be pretty, so people walking by can feel good,” she said. “We’re happy to share the space with everyone on campus.”
To find out more about the microgrant program, visit https://jewishottawa.com/giving/jewish-experience-microgrants
To learn about Ganon Preschool, visit https://www.jccottawa.com/class/ganon-preschool