Yellowknife moms Annabel Etheridge and Kate Gamble are extending their summer camp forest school into a 12-week fall program.
The two co-founded the Rooted in Nature forest school last summer after seeing a need in Yellowknife for “kids to have uninterrupted play on the land with other children,” said Etheridge, acknowledging a long wait list at Bush Kids, a similar forest school. program.
Last year’s summer program was popular, but this year the camp sold out within five minutes, Etheridge told Cabin Radio.
“I just felt like I needed to go for it and quit my job as a teacher and am going to run the school through the fall so that kids get that mental health break they need during the week, and they can be immersed on the land and creating and playing their imaginations,” she said.
“Our goal is to slow things down, to provide kids with the time to connect with themselves, the land, and each other, when we know families are sometimes too busy to do so.”
The fall program will run on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, as well as on school PD days.
A typical day starts with a morning meeting circle where the kids talk about their hopes for the day. They take part in a land acknowledgment where Etheridge and Gamble “remind the kids that we leave only footsteps and take only memories. Everything stays where we found it,” said Etheridge.
“We have a mud kitchen set up and a Lego area, and in the summertime we have a hammock zone with a bunch of hammocks tied up in the forest for kids who need some quiet time.
“Depending on the group of kids, some are really into fort building, or some are really into understanding habitats, and we bring up the field guides and we identify different insects and go for hikes.
“The kids are not only exploring themselves and their interests with their peers, but they’re also building a fundamental relationship with the land and deep trust in themselves and what their abilities are.”
Etheridge said the forest school occupies a space “parallel to the school system” where children can learn in a classroom but then tackle an “inquiry-based approach where kids can find their interests and build that self-confidence.”
“We see literacy happening in the forest, which is so cool. They’re writing. They’re taking notes of the things that they find, and if they can’t write then they’re drawing pictures,” she said.
The summer program currently runs behind Mildred Hall School. The fall school will be held behind North Country Stables, where Etheridge and Gamble will build a wall tent with a wood stove.
“We just got a huge order of kid-sized working tools for building and creating, like carving knives and sandpaper, and we’ve got a whole trail system behind [the stables] as well,” said Etheridge.
More information can be found on Rooted in Nature’s website.