In this technological age of iPods, iPhones and iPads, many parents worry their children don't get enough of an opportunity to simply play outside. That is not a problem at all for students at the Alderwood House School on Shell Road, that officially launched the first primarily outdoor-based daycare in the Lower Mainland.
From 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., children aged 10 months to five years old - split into infant and toddler groups - spend anywhere from three to seven hours outdoors exploring the wooded back yard, or following an instructor on an adventure along the adjacent Horseshoe Slough trail.
Pamela Wallberg, founder of the school, opened Alderwood six years ago, but said they recently switched to the outdoor model after being inspired by a similar concept implemented last fall in the District of Sooke on Vancouver Island.
"What's great about the school is that it's on a huge farm property right on a nature trail. What we were finding over the years is that we were spending more and more time outside anyways," said Wallberg.
On a typical day, after students get dropped off in the morning, they start outside in the yard exploring materials put out by the teachers. At 9 a.m., the children bundle up in clothing and don a head-to-toe rain jacket called a "Muddy Buddy" and make their way down the nature trail, playing and learning as they go along.
A favorite stop along the way is "muddy mountain," a tall dirt hill that was built by local teenagers as a mountain bike ramp. There is also a log arrangement where everyone sits down for group time that can involve singing or having a snack. But all the fun doesn't overshadow the educational component, said Wallberg.
"The other day they had a hunt looking for specific types of leaves, and watching how a puddle fills up with water and how much it has been increasing over time."
After lunch and nap time, the afternoon often involves botany where the kids plant vegetables in the school garden.
Wallberg said that being out in the open, rather than doing individual activities inside, allows for more focus on social and emotional development. For example, helping each other climb up muddy mountain or working together to set up a tarp.
"Playing house is so easy, but this requires them to be interdependent."
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