Growing up on five acres of beautiful farm land in Paisley, Ontario, Breanne Card felt that her backyard was a playground. Being surrounded by woodlands, swamps and gardens gave her an appreciation for nature that would form a foundation for her interest in Forest Kindergarten.
Forest Kindergarten is a concept that provides a safe outdoor space for children to learn about themselves, others and their environment. This program could take place in any natural outdoor setting such as a forest, beach or tundra.
Ms. Card had originally explored the Forest Kindergarten Model when it was implemented by Cedarsong Nature School on Vashon Island, WA. This was the first program of its kind to be implemented in the United States. A teacher and nature-lover herself, Ms. Card believed that a similar program could work in Canada.
“Forest Kindergarten programs do meet and offer children learning opportunities to reach beyond the specific curriculum outcomes specified for Kindergarten,” said Ms. Card. “These programs create a greater sense of community, a sense of place and a sense of self through emergent creative play-based learning.”
Ms. Card’s decision to move to Newfoundland and eventually to Labrador was two-fold; she was attracted to the rugged beauty of the province and excited by the Faculty of Education’s enthusiasm around her research.
“The beauty and adventure of Newfoundland and Labrador pulled me to Memorial University,” said Ms. Card. “The rugged cliffs, vast ocean, east coast feel and breathtaking views seemed like they would fit well with my love for being outdoors. I contacted the university and was thrilled with their interest in my academic goals. I felt like my research would be taken seriously and that I would have the support I needed to make my vision become reality.”
During her time at Memorial, Ms. Card has received several awards and scholarships including Memorial University Fellowships in both 2012 and 2013, the Dr. Ethel M. Janes Memorial Scholarship in Education, the Canadian College of Teachers Scholarship and the TD Graduate Bursary. Ms. Card credits the support of faculty members for helping her succeed in her program.
“I am extremely grateful for the guidance, expertise and patience of my thesis advisor, Dr. Anne Burke, along this amazing adventure. Dr. Ursula Kelly also inspired me to really look into place-based education and the power of connecting that to the practice of Forest Kindergarten. Outdoor emergent creative play-based learning truly enhances a child’s sense of self, place, and community.”
When Ms. Card decided to come to Newfoundland and Labrador to study, she became very interested in how this model could work for Aboriginal children. She saw Forest Kindergarten acting as a bridge between traditional education and culture, especially in many Aboriginal communities that are struggling to keep their culture and languages alive.
“The practice of a Forest Kindergarten could give Elders more opportunity to share and model traditional ceremonies and teaching with the younger generation,” said Ms. Card. “This time on the land would strengthen a child’s sense of community, self and place while maintaining traditional ecological knowledge and wisdom.”
Ms. Card wanted to take her research into action, so in 2012 she moved to Labrador. In 2013, she became a full time teacher at Sheshatshiu Innu School. She started an afterschool outdoor club and watched students who struggled in a classroom setting have the opportunity to shine. These students began teaching her and their peers how to ice fish or how to make Innu donuts, which are similar to bannock with berries or raisins. Ms. Card started to see improvements in her students’ ability to focus. She also noticed that on days she took her class outside, and focused the lesson on Innu Aitun (Innu culture), attendance tripled. This experience has convinced Ms. Card that the Forest Kindergarten Model can indeed work for Aboriginal children.
Ms. Card is currently teaching Kindergarten in Churchill Falls, Labrador and she takes her students on outdoor adventures as often as possible. She will be graduating with her Master of Education in Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Studies in May 2015 and hopes to one day implement the practice of Forest Kindergarten within independent Aboriginal school boards as well as Departments of Education across Canada.