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Okotoks school celebrates its great outdoors program

Any chance we can we are interacting with nature... Talking about the planet we live in – reading stories about animals, talking about pollution and how it matters, just incorporating nature in everything we do.” -- Tammy Jespersen, Percy Pegler kindergarten teacher about the Nature-Based Learning program
NEWS-Pegler Nature Learning BWC 6701 web_1
Teacher Graham Campbell guides families through an activity at an open house for the Ecole Percy Pegler School nature-based learning program on Sept. 9.

A Percy Pegler School Kindergarten teacher has an education assistant in her classroom that has literally been around forever.

Kindergarten teacher Tammy Jespersen’s education assistant is Ms. Nature — Mother Nature.

“I am so excited about this — I believe in this,” said Jespersen, the Kindergarten teacher for Pegler’s Nature Based Learning program. “Any chance we can we are interacting with nature... Talking about the planet we live in – reading stories about animals, talking about pollution and how it matters, just incorporating nature in everything we do.”

Percy Pegler celebrated the introduction of its K to Grade 6 Nature based program Sept. 9 in the evening outside in its playground. The program has students learning outside rather than in the typical indoor classroom. The celebration had parents and their children partaking in outdoor activities and roasting marshmallows.

It’s the first-time the program has been available for all grades.

The Outdoor Kindergarten classes are Tuesdays and Thursdays and the occasional Friday. The five-year-olds aren’t thrown out in the great outdoors like Mowgli right from day 1.

“We just started this week, it’s all about building stamina,” Jespersen said. “We are not starting with the second day of Kindergarten and being outside all day.

“Instead slowly incorporating those outdoor lessons and making them longer and longer each time. Slowly building up that stamina and appreciation for the outdoors.

“For some of them, just being outside for longer periods of time is new.”

The first days consisted of exercises such as being indoors and drawing pictures of their mom and dads and then framing them with sticks that they found outside, Jespersen explained.

Brad Llewellyn has his daughter Ezreya enrolled in the Pegler outdoor Kindergarten class.

“I don’t think kids are designed to be stuck in a classroom in a seat all day,” Llewellyn said. “This gives them a little bit more freedom hopefully,”

It was balmy on Sept. 9, and Llewellyn said he is not sure what happens when the temperatures dip below zero. “We will cross that bridge when we get there,” Llewellyn said.

The treshhold is about –18C, Jespersen said, and she said the students will be ready.

“The kids are going to be dressed appropriately – we will have a ton of spares (mittens, toques...) Jespersesn said.

“On those really cold days we will be inside learning about our natural world outdoors.”

Ryan Lemphers is in his fourth year of teaching the outdoor program. He will teach Grade 5/6 in 2020-21.

Graham Campbell taught Grade 4 at Westmount last school year.

Both teachers presented to the Foothills School Division trustees last year about the the possibility of having an outdoor program from Kindergarten to Grade 6 for this school year, which was later approved when there was enough enrolment to justify the course.

“For the last three years we (Campbell and Lemphers) taught it in our classrooms and we dreamed of it getting bigger and impacting more kids,” Lemphers said, who is teaching a Grade 5-6 class.

“To see a hundred kids here tonight with their parents, is a dream come true.

“Today the kids were out learning from each other, out in nature, collaborating, it was a beautiful thing.”

Campbell is teaching the Grade 3-4 program at Pegler, while Kristen Whaley is teaching Grade 1 –2.

Lemphers said at present, the Kindergarten children are out for about 30 to 45 minutes while his older students are out for about 90 minutes (the older students will spend full days at least twice a week outdoors as well).

“By the end of the month, we will be there for the full day for he older kids,” Lemphers said. “It will take the Kindies a while to build up to that.”

One Kindy is already liking it.

“I like the teacher,” Ezerya said. “I like the outside – I like the playground.”


Bruce Campbell

About the Author: Bruce Campbell

Bruce Campbell is the editor for Okotokstoday.ca and the Western Wheel newspaper. He is a graduate of Mount Royal College journalism program, 1991. For story tips contact bcampbell@okotoks.greatwest.ca
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