Hand-in-Hand takes preschoolers out to the woods

A new summer camp and pre-school program takes the kids to an outdoor classroom.

Hand-in-Hand is a preschool and summer camp program that takes three and four-year-olds into the forest instead of in a traditional classroom. The focus is playing without confinement and learning to value their natural environment.

The Early Years Nature Education Program that made waves in Cumberland last year and Comox last spring is coming to Campbell River.

The upcoming summer camp at the end of the month, and the preschool program coming this fall, takes the three and four-year-olds outside the traditional classroom and into the forest.

“You bring them to the outdoor elements, to the forest, and it just provides the perfect setting for those children to be the children that they are,” said Jarrett Krentzel, director.

Krentzel has a long history of teaching environmental education and he has come to realize that if we don’t get children connected to nature at an early enough age we tend to lose them, and even kindergarten might not be early enough.

“It is very important, at an early age, to get children connected to the forest, connected to the natural world and to plant that seed early enough so that when it is revisited later in life they have that as a foundation,” he said.

The Hand-in-Hand program is similar to an in-door preschool program. The kids read stories, sing songs and play games, but Krentzel feels that being in nature is less restricting than being in-doors.

There are boundaries set up with cones to create an outdoor classroom, but there isn’t the ‘climbing up the walls’ effect that sometimes happens in an indoor space. Krentzel thinks that being in the expansiveness of the forest is very grounding for the young children.

The teachers bring everything they need in a wagon but the supplies are minimal. The goal is really to get the kids to interact with the forest. They do bring along a collapsible sink for snack time as well as a forest port-a-potty.

“The ultimate hope is that these children will grow up to be the future stewards and protect the forest in a way that they want to protect their own homes and towns and schools that they grew up with,” Krentzel said. “We want them to understand that the forest and the beaches and the natural areas that we live with are just an extension of our home.”

For every eight children there is one teacher and Krentzel has two teachers lined up for the Campbell River location. He said there is high demand for the program, and parents are securing their spots years in advance just to make sure.

Krentzel has partnered up with the sportsplex, which will be the drop-off and pick-up location for the upcoming programs.

Parents can also register at the sportsplex or at the community centre.