What’s Growing at the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens: Wild Spirits
By Melanie Priesnitz
Do you remember when you were young and ran wild in the ravine behind your house, splashed in puddles in the garden, and climbed trees? I hope so because it probably means that you are now a confident person with a healthy understanding of risk management, strong creative thinking, and problem solving skills, along with an inherent respect for the environment and how you fit into it. You likely weren’t aware that you were honing these skills as you played freely in wild spaces as a child, but you were.
There is a myriad of research indicating that kids need unstructured outdoor play to be mentally and physically healthy and to grow up to be high-functioning members of society. Unfortunately we have discovered this the hard way by seeing what happens when kids are raised with highly structured time in a technological world filled with fears of danger and liability. It’s hard for spirits and imaginations to soar without freedom and fresh air. We don’t generally give our kids a lot of un-programmed space to take risks and build confidence and creativity. How often do you hear a parent say, “go outside and lie on the grass and do nothing?” We’re much more likely to say, “go mow the lawn, practice piano, do your homework, do something useful.”
We put a lot of pressure on kids at a very young age but we don’t always help them develop the coping skills that they need. As a result, an estimated 1.2 million children and youth in Canada struggle with mental illness and the obesity rates of young Canadians has tripled in the last 30 years. It’s time to reverse these trends by getting kids outside playing in the dirt again.
To meet the current needs of parents and kids, forest and nature schools are popping up around the world. The concept started in Europe where there are many successful forest schools for children of all ages. The Child and Nature Alliance of Canada in Ottawa is doing great work to help communities develop forest schools across the country. They work to connect children and youth with nature through policy, research, and practice and hold courses for educators across Canada.
The Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens is very excited to be partnering with the Valley-based not-for-profit organization Wild Spirits Forest and Nature School for a pilot project this spring. Wild Spirits is run by experienced outdoor educators and nature play facilitators. They embrace wild child energy and are trained to direct it in developmentally positive ways.
Wild Spirits will be running a 7-week preschool play-based nature program in the Woodland Trails and the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens. Chickadees in the Garden will take place Mondays from 9:30am – 1:30pm starting April 9. Program fee is $190 for 7 weeks. The Friends of the Acadian Forest are helping to support this program by offering bursaries to families who need financial assistance. Programs will continue with enough community interest. Also keep an eye out for summer camps for older kids. Visit wildspiritsforestschool.com for registration information. To find out more, come out to the Wild Spirits Picnic and Bonfire on Monday April 2 from 11:30 – 1:30 in the Botanical Gardens. facebook.com/HarrietIrvingBotanicalGardens/
Melanie Priesnitz, Conservation Horticulturist
Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens