Kids work on building a shelter out of sticks and branches at an outdoor day camp. (Submitted)

Rivers to Ridges readies for new forest school preschool program

The Nest preschool program starts Jan. 7

Rivers to Ridges — an organization already well-known for helping school-aged Yukoners better connect with the land and their communities through outdoor camps and programming — is now turning its attention to a younger crowd as it gets set to pilot its forest school preschool program.

The Nest Forest School has been in the works for years as more requests have come in from families looking for outdoor programming for their little ones, Rivers to Ridges co-founders and directors Erin Nicolardi and Emily Payne said in a Nov. 12 interview.

In January 2018 Rivers to Ridges received a $100,000 Arctic Inspiration Prize to further pursue the forest school proposal and that got the ball rolling to firm up plans and start the program, the two co-founders said. Registration is now happening with the preschool set to open to 14 students on Jan. 7, 2020.

As Payne said when Rivers to Ridges was awarded the funding: “One of our core beliefs is just that all children across the North should be able to access opportunities that will allow them to connect deeply with the land from a young age, and the award we’ve been given by the Arctic Inspiration Prize is specifically going to allow us to start delivering more consistent programming for young children ages three to five through forest school.”

Payne said the initiative came from Rivers to Ridges wanting to reach children at an earlier age with land-based learning opportunities and to meet the growing demand of families who were asking Rivers to Ridges for preschool programming.

“We both love working with that age group,” Payne said of herself and Nicolardi.

She went on to say there are a number of good preschools around Whitehorse offering quality programs that provide time for students to be outside, but this will be a formal forest school program in the city.

Forest schools offer learner-led programming that happens on the land.

The school — operating Tuesday to Thursdays from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. — will be based from the Whitehorse United Church (which will serve as a backup indoor space if needed), but the programming will largely happen outside.

As stated on the Nest page of the Rivers to Ridges website: “We are guided by the weather as much as we are by the needs of the children we serve. We aim to be outside in all weather conditions and may often have a temporary structure set up outside for warmth as needed. While we do not have a hard-temperature cutoff, we do take many precautions to ensure children are comfortable and safe. Please ensure your child is always prepared and ready to be outside when they come to the Nest.”

Families are provided a full list of supplies and gear needed.

The Rivers to Ridges programs emphasize a connection with the land that happens when children spend time there. Through that connection children are able to feel empowered and become more resilient, Payne and Nicolardi said.

Registrations for the 14 spaces available have been steadily coming in with a mix of new names and familiar family names who have older children that have taken part in previous Rivers to Ridges camps.

With the exception of a two-week break in March, the preschool program will run the three afternoons a week until June 4.

After that Nicolardi and Payne said Rivers to Ridges officials will assess how the pilot went and decide how they want to move forward.

If successful, there’s potential it could continue on as a part-time program or perhaps expand into a full-time program.

“We’re keen to see where it goes,” Nicolardi said.

Full details and registration information about The Nest are available at https://www.riverstoridges.org/forest-school.html

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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Rivers to Ridges campers build a shelter out for snow during one of the programs day camps. (Submitted)

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