Nature-based education will be the focus of a new non-profit-run independent elementary school opening in south Nanaimo in September.
B.C. Ministry of Education’s independent school division has given Nanaimo Innovation Academy daycare the green light to open a school serving students from kindergarten to Grade 3 for 2022-23. Two cohorts with 16 students each, for K/1 and Grade 1/2/3, will be offered for September, said principal Lindsay Davies.
“We know that it has a real impact for the children to be in nature, and especially in play-based learning at these ages,” said Davies. “We’re trying to set the scaffolding up for the most success for them that we possibly can. We know that getting kids into nature [earlier] can help them grow into people who really help to protect the environment and nature as well.”
The school will follow regular curriculum, but Davies said its status as an independent school allows for nearly the entire day to be spent outdoors. There are learning themes for every month and a focus on child-led learning.
“When the students find something that they’re really interested in, then we incorporate that into our curriculum,” said Davies. “Say we’re out in the woods and kids are finding woodlouse. We have resources for that we can incorporate, that we can do outdoor math with that, we can bring that into the classroom. So we have an overarching curriculum that follows B.C. curriculum, but we also get to follow what the kids’ interests are, which I think is really important.”
This also translates to reading and math, said Davies, and there is even a teacher interested in math instruction in the forest.
“When we were creating this program, we really wanted to focus on natural materials, and just teaching the curriculum in different ways,” said Davies. “So for math and literacy, our kids right now have a huge interest in books. We provide them with the materials … we do all the literacy that needs to be done in kindergarten, but we cover it with again more natural materials, and talking about the animals in our local ecosystem and using the nature around us to really encourage that.”
A monthly fee of $1,000 will be charged and the academy is looking into how to provide subsidies, Davies said.
With the school’s focus on outdoor learning, holidays will be scheduled differently than public schools, with one-month breaks in January and August.
Nanaimo Innovation Academy would eventually like to have a K-7 elementary school, according to Davies. For now, spaces for an entire class have been filled.
“We continue to review applications on a rolling basis until the class fills and then we will start a wait-list,” said Keely Freeman, NIA founder and executive director, in a press release. “We already have interest from families for future years.”
For more information, including the group’s fundraising efforts, go to www.nanaimoinnovation.org.