I've been the mother who has set her alarm to dial the number + log onto the site to press refresh + redial repeatedly until I gain access to input the activity codes recorded on a pad of paper nearby. The codes that contain the key to getting my kids into the gym class or parks+rec course or swimming lesson...but, I'm not that mother anymore. Now, I am the mother who runs the program that people are eager to register for.
Last year, right around this time, I made the big decision to close down my preschools and set my sights on other projects. Little did I know then how good I had it! I thought I had been working hard (I mean, I WAS. Running daycares and preschools with young kids learning new life skills, who always need SOMETHING...all while trying my best to facilitate learning in environments that were inspiring, intentional + meaningful...while preparing all their food + activities, rest periods + outdoor adventures + maintaining dialogue with parents surrounding each child and family).
But then I closed the schools and moved everything to the Forest. Same big job, but this time I had to travel WITH all the food + supplies on my back and my dog + kids in tow...and of course, outside of the comfort of my air-conditioned home/schools...On Day 2, I wrote in my journal "I have never worked so hard in my life!" And, guess what? I just signed myself up for another round; another 7 weeks of witnessing the magic that happens when humans remember how to live harmoniously in nature.
Last year Child in the Wild Forest School offered Montreal + visiting families a day camp experience focused on the natural world, borrowing from the philosophy of the Forest School approach.
On Mondays, Tuesdays + Thursdays, campers met at the Playground at the foot of Mount Royal and would then hike, as a collective, to various spots upon the mountain to explore the natural settings, climb trees, create shelters, observe wildlife, etc. etc.... There were definitely some structured Forest Schooling activities, such as flora, fungi + fauna identification, nature treasure-hunting, traditional land acknowledgment and the Japanese practice of shinrin yoku (aka forest bathing), but there was also a overarching theme to provide children with many opportunities to simply just BE within the forest; adventuring, adapting and taking risks to develop greater skill, confidence and clarity.
Child in the Wild Nature Day Camp was born from the direct experiences I was having with my private preschool, Garden Grow Playschool, as we pivoted to embrace more of a Forest School model, post-lockdown. It was on the mountain where I witnessed my students come more alive than I'd ever seen, almost like they were experiencing a remembering of sorts; like they were tuning in to ancient, ancestral wisdoms that our urban lifestyles have caused us to mostly forget. Every time I welcomed new campers into this experience, I observed young people who believed themselves to be wary of insects, or big groups, or dirt, welcome the adventure of a honey bee taste their muddy hands, as the other campers watched in awe, waiting / wishing for a turn to enjoy that same thrill.
Parents were asked to purchase a Child in the Wild camp hat, which made it easily accessible to conduct frequent head-counts, as well as prevent sunburns and insect bites! That was a whole trip! I ordered them through a Chinese factory when it felt like the western world had turned their backs on the Chinese. Though I had intended to produce these hats locally, it was way out of my budget to do so. When I finally matched up with a correspondent for the hat factory, I was glad I hadn't. She and I developed such a sweet way of being with one another over text, at strange hours of the day, while we coordinated the order. It felt like the world was getting smaller + more familiar.
Last Summer, we gathered rain or shine. It was always a mad dash to leave the house with my enormous pack, my daughter + her pack + or dog, Pijo. On the rainy or incredibly hot days we set up tarps to remain unbothered by the elements. During instances when heat advisories were made, we met instead at the top of the mountain to spend those days keeping cool at the small splash pad, next to Beaver Lake.
On Wednesdays, we met at Parc Maisonneuve. We did this deliberately to switch up the scene, getting to know the urban gardens, the sheep in the sanctuary there, the plentiful mulberry bush patch and the nook within the tall pines. This was where more of a traditional day camp experience was facilitated, experimenting on a slack-line, playing soccer, badminton, sponge-tag, tail-tag, Uno, making friendship bracelets, etc.
Each day campers were responsible for carrying their own belongings: a backpack full of water bottles, extra socks, sunscreen, bug spray + perhaps a rain jacket or hoodie. Counsellors (Julia - one of my former students' mom + I) carried all of the other stuff, including enough snacks for morning + afternoon and plant-based lunches for everyone. This made for some very heavy lifting for us, but the feedback from parents was that not having to coordinate packed food for their children was extremely helpful
+ appreciated. As an educator and parent myself, I have seen how eating new or healthy ingredients is much more easier + enjoyable when there is a pack mentality attached to it. In addition, I am a firm believer in living as low-waste as possible. Packing food for the entire group allowed me to uphold these values + model how to practice low-to-no waste for the campers. For these reasons, food will continue to be provided for all campers this year. Not sure how exactly, especially since Julia is unavailable, but I have time...I have to remember that although I need to be organized enough for the eager + ready parents to register + plan their family's summers, I can still complete one task at a time until we arrive to July.