A pilot project is taking place in Portage la Prairie's La Verendrye School entitled Forest School. The school recognizes that this part of the country has many ties to this Land reaching back before colonization.

Grade 3 teacher Shari Sauso has been working with students at the school in the program and explains how it works.

"A lot of people will trace Forest Schools back to Denmark and Scandinavia in the 1950s as a movement to get children connected in nature and grounded in their bodies," says Sauso. "But in the Canadian context, we know that learning from the land is, was, and will continue to be an Indigenous way of being. It's one way to de-colonize the school system a little bit. We have a lot of challenges in our classroom compositions. We have a lot of complex needs. And when I've taken the kids outside, all of the challenges that I'm seeing in the classroom tend to disappear."

She explains this outdoor setting actually removes the distinctions of who is struggling in the classrooms behaviourally, emotionally, or academically. 

"Everybody is finding something that they are deeply entertained with, and interested in, and is of value to them," notes Sauso. "It has four school values -- children's play, it's self-directed emergent curriculum, child-led, and inquiry-driven. We're already seeing kids deep into inquiry and deep into their play. It's really great."

Sauso says she recently completed a five-day intensive on-the-land training through Child Nature Alliance of Canada.

"Over the next year or so, I'll be completing a series of assignments to earn that certification," continues Sauso. "We're just starting out. But the kids love it. Every day, they're like, 'Are we going to our spot?' Yesterday, we did a community cleanup, and at 3:30, I was sending them home and one little guy said, 'Well, are we going to our spot now?' My partner, Mr. Dewis, and I my have noticed it's the only time of the day kids aren't asking what time it is. How much longer?"

She notes the site is still quite new to them 

"They're pretty excited to be there," adds Sauso. "We go in without a plan and let the children discover their plan. They're in charge of their learning. We co-manage risk with them so they can learn to trust their bodies, learn what feels safe, and learn when to say no. I think a lot of people, when they see a kid climbing a tree, they don't see it that there's really deep learning that happens when a kid is in a tree. And for a kid who's on the spectrum, being able to inhabit their body fully in that way is really a meaningful experience. And for, let's say, a neurotypical kid who maybe does well in sports and well in school... I had a kid like that who said, 'This is my first time climbing a tree.' This is a 9-year-old. I said, 'What kind of kid are you?' Childhood has moved indoors."

Sauso says kids are getting upwards of 40 hours of screen-time a week. 

"I think Canadian Paediatric Association recommends a maximum of two hours a day for our age group," notes Sauso. "So, we're way beyond what we should be doing and we need to get kids outside. When we're outside, our senses are all awakened. When we're outside, there are physiological changes that happen in your body. I could direct you to studies. There's a lot of stuff coming out of Japan about Forest Bathing, but even just being able to see nature from your classroom window has been linked to better attention and better stress response." 

She says you should get outside, take the time, enjoy, and protect our wild spaces.

"Unfortunately, when I look around the schoolyard, we have to leave," says Sauso. "So, we need wild spaces. We need to protect biodiversity. And we need to do it for and with our children."