Forest school grows roots

By Sue Tiffin

Forest School an outdoor education delivery model is frequently traced back to Denmark in the 1950s as a formal model since the early 1990s and in Canada since the early 2000s with the Child & Nature Alliance also acknowledging “that Indigenous people here have been teaching and learning on with and from this land for millennia.”

Learning outdoors isn’t new but Forest Schools in Haliburton County are with two – At Last Forest Schools to be opened at Abbey Gardens and YMCA Wanakita Forest School to be opened at Camp Wanakita – looking to welcome students this fall 2020.

Both organizations are planning typical Forest School offerings: small groups of about six kids of various ages together with one adult instructor for one to two days a week. The majority of the day is play-based and inquiry-led spent outside regardless of the season in which students hike explore and learn skills including animal tracking and plant and tree identification based on what they find or have questions about during the day.

At Last Forest Schools will run throughout each season of the school year while YMCA Wanakita will run for seven-week sessions in the spring and fall with a separate March Break offering. Both schools will open for PA days as well. The programs are an option for home schooled kids as well as public school students who would divide their time between traditional school and Forest School.

Evidence-based research has shown that potential benefits of Forest School include improved confidence concentration physical stamina and skills  sensory development as well as reduced stress. Students who might have behavioural challenges or find transitions difficult at traditional school often experience success at Forest School said Debbie Ray-Val whose growing number of At Last Forest Schools have been popular since opening in Owen Sound in 2016 which she said leads to better success upon their return to traditional school.

Additionally both At Last Forest Schools and YMCA Wanakita Forest School spokespeople discussed how students can learn to manage risks through play so that instead of being told not to do something – climb a boulder climb a tree jump in a puddle –  because of a standard one-size-fits-all rule in place the students learn to think individually about their abilities and actions a skill that translates to other areas of their lives.

Advocates for Forest School say students also become fast and longterm stewards of the land appreciating the space they return to regularly and understanding their effect on nature.

In Haliburton County where our kids  are surrounded by forests and have access to naturally diverse spaces such as Abbey Gardens and YMCA Wanakita Forest School could offer additional opportunities to get outside.

For more information about At Last Forest Schools – Haliburton at Abbey Gardens an info session will be held on the At Last Forest Schools – Haliburton Facebook page on Feb. 13 and May 20 at 8:30 p.m. while an in-person parent information session will be held at Abbey Gardens on April 5 at 1 p.m. A story about the school is online at

For more information about Forest School at YMCA Wanakita see this week’s Echo or visit YMCA Wanakita online at or contact Sarah Bell at or at 1-800-387-5081 x.2245.