REVIEW OF Explore Nature BY parent, Karen Sadler
- Date of Review
May 17, 2023
- Child 1
Gr. 1 (Female, Current Day Student)
(4) Student Experience
My daughter is thriving thanks to the small, collaborative nature of this school. The teachers work hard to foster a real sense of the school as a community, and having kids of different ages interact with each other throughout the day contributes to that. The children's strengths are celebrated, helping develop self-confidence, and there is also a specific focus on emotional regulation to teach the kids how to help themselves through conflict or times of low self-esteem. Of course, the outdoor aspect of the school is a huge highlight. My daughter loves the forest and learning about plants and trees and animals. It's so nice to know she is getting more than the recommended outside time for kids each day and a lot of physical movement as well. She also loves the class pets during the inside time. She struggles a bit on rainy, cold days, which is understandable. But it's a nice teachable moment that if we're dressed properly, even those days can be fun outside.
(4) School Leadership
We haven't had any big issues to deal with and the small ones between my daughter and another student have been communicated clearly and dealt with fairly. There is a clear focus on conflict resolution and personal responsibility and reflecting on one's own actions and how they might affect another kid. Emails go out pretty regularly to remind us of upcoming special days or weeks we need to be aware of and teachers are very responsive to our emails too.
The teachers meet kids where they are. Because the classroom has kids of multiple ages and grades, the teachers are well-equipped to have kids working on skills appropriate to their level in any subject. For example, my daughter has a good aptitude for numbers and will often work at a level higher than her grade. Whereas she is having more of a challenge with reading and writing, and will work at a level below her grade to solidify those skills first. The teachers are great at fostering enthusiasm for the outdoors and clearly enjoy being outside every day. They know all about the ravine the students use as a classroom and my daughter has come home many a day telling me something new about the forest that I had no clue about. It's fun to be learning things from her!
The focus at this school is meeting kids where they are and fostering self-confidence by helping them develop resiliency, emotional regulation, mindfulness, and practice of daily movement and outside time. It does not have a focus on traditional academic success (which for me, is a good thing). I'd say it falls in line with the idea that kids will be ready to learn something in their own time and that pushing something before a kid is ready can create a negative association for them. My daughter's numeracy and literacy skills have definitely improved this year, as I think they would in any school, but what I see most is her confidence to share opinions, and speaking freely about her feelings and challenges. I also see the emotional regulation skills she's built, and her new love for the outdoors, which includes her feeling braver in what her body can do and braver around bugs, animals, other kids, etc.
The kids have done so much cool stuff this year that you would not get from a regular school: caring for animals, having campfires, building and then playing in their own obstacle courses, learning to use a compass, identifying animal tracks, yoga, painting the snow with food coloring, creating art out of objects found in nature, baking, etc. It's like school and summer camp combined.
The school is small and close-knit. The kids all know each other quite well and have a real camaraderie. There is no hierarchy between the older kids and younger kids. Everyone is a member of the community and valued for that. The kids generally get along, and because of the high teacher-to-student ratio, any conflict is noticed immediately and talked through. Nothing really happens without the teachers observing it and being able to intervene when needed. My daughter talks all about her school friends. She loves playing with them and is excited each day to see them. They have all developed a habit of making each other little gifts or drawings or toys. And again, the multi-age model of the classroom is really lovely and my child is friends with both younger and older kids, as well as those her own age.
(5) School Life
I feel safe sending my kid to Explore Nature, which is always the first concern for a parent. My key reason for sending her was actually because we are a covid conscious family, so the small class size and the outdoor component were huge for us. But beyond covid safety, because of the small class size and amazing teacher-to-student ratio, I know these kids are well looked after even as they adventure all through the forest each day. My child loves going to school especially on days when the weather is good!. She knows she'll feel heard and supported no matter what is going on that day. The rapport between students and teachers is very friendly and casual, and there is no fear of any of the teachers the way some kids might feel in a regular school.
I have not really been involved in school life and there is not much of a parent community. We all pick our children up at different times and don't really have a chance to connect. We have not been asked to be involved in school life, as I don't think there is a need for extra help given the good teacher/student ratio.
(4) School Location
The school is in the Leaside area of Toronto. The kids obviously spend a large amount of time each day in the ravine system behind the school. They also go to the neighborhood library once a month, which is probably a 30-minute walk from the school. The school is located in a residential area close to a larger traffic hub.