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Linking kids to the natural world

By Stephen Uhler, The Daily Observer

Emma Schofield, centre, of Algonquin College's early childhood education program, consults with, from left, Mia Bullock, Mackenzie Fitzgerald and Caitlin Blanchette, all from Kathy Frederick's JK-SK class at Rockwood Public School. The college, in conjunction with Rockwood and St. Andrew's Catholic School in Killaloe, is conducting a school yard greening project, in order to design natural play spaces for schools. Students have a big say in this, and were consulted throughout the school.

Emma Schofield, centre, of Algonquin College's early childhood education program, consults with, from left, Mia Bullock, Mackenzie Fitzgerald and Caitlin Blanchette, all from Kathy Frederick's JK-SK class at Rockwood Public School. The college, in conjunction with Rockwood and St. Andrew's Catholic School in Killaloe, is conducting a school yard greening project, in order to design natural play spaces for schools. Students have a big say in this, and were consulted throughout the school.

Students at Rockwood Public School worked with Algonquin College students on Monday to help green up their playgrounds.

This schoolyard greening project is an effort to develop creative, environmentally sustainable and natural play spaces at two local schools, St. Andrews Catholic School in Killaloe and Rockwood, with the goal of reconnecting students to nature.

Students from several programs at Algonquin College's Waterfront Campus in Pembroke, partnering with KidActive, took part in this initiative. The project involves 10 Algonquin students from the Forestry Technician, Environmental Technician, Outdoor Adventure, Outdoor Adventure Naturalist, Nursing and Early Childhood Education programs.

They met with primary grade students to explore what the children envision for their schoolyard playground, and help them design it. Through this exercise, the college students needed to consider acceptable risk and school yard design features.

Julie Sylvestre, the college's applied research co-ordinator, said funding for the project is coming from their Health and Community Studies Department, and is being done in partnership with the schools.

"We've put together a team of students to held design natural play spaces," she said. "We want kids to get back outside and away from the screens, and be interacting with nature."

Sylvestre said getting kids outdoors is good for their health and well being, and for developing environmental values. She said it also helps with connecting younger students more with the outdoors.

"This has gone really great," she said, explaining the schools have been really eager to take part in the project. The college is equally eager, as they had no trouble finding people willing to take part in it.

"This provides unique opportunities to get hands on training in their fields, and to use their skills that they were taught," Sylvestre said.

Terry Burwell, Rockwood's principal, said this has been an excellent partnership and a great opportunity to further develop the green space with which the school's been blessed.

"What we're getting here today is the student voice," he said, "which will be used to further enhance the natural spaces they have on hand, such as the wetland the school developed.

"We want to expand the swamp area and create an environmental core study," Burwell said, noting the students already love it and the hands on learning it offers as a functioning ecosystem.

"There are not too many schools which have the size of yard we do," he said.

The plan being developed through this project will be presented to the schools at the end of March for consideration.

Stephen Uhler is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist

stephen.uhler@sunmedia.ca


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