One of the kindergarten students picks snowpeas from the garden at James Culnan School’s Climate Change Village. Photo courtesy of Maureen Smith

An early start to learning about the environment

  • August 29, 2015

TORONTO - The youngest students at James Culnan Catholic School are getting the opportunity to connect with nature as part of their daily life at school.

The west-end Toronto school has created a Climate Change Village that offers kindergarten students a chance to explore nature right on the school grounds.  

The Climate Change Village, a 30-by-60-foot area of the school grounds fenced off for the kindergarten students, was officially launched in June, though the youngsters were able to explore the grounds throughout much of the year. The project has converted the area back to its natural state, with garden boxes installed, vegetation planted and five soil stations similar to sandboxes on top of the asphalt of the schoolyard.  

“We just let the kids go, let them get out there and explore on their own and they did a pretty remarkable job of that,” said Maureen Smith, James Culnan’s parent council’s grand co-ordinator who spearheaded the project. “The kids do a really good job of just discovering nature on their own and the benefits of it.”

Establishing a connection with nature should lead to more environmentally conscious citizens in the future, and is something all Catholics should be doing for their children, said Smith.

“We as Catholics need to be more involved with protecting the environment, cherishing it and fighting to protect it,” said Smith. “If we are going to have a planet for our future generations to live on we’ve got to make sure the current generation of kids understands how fragile the environment is and what we can do to protect it.”

But it isn’t being left to the kids to figure this out on their own.  

“To reinforce it the teachers are adding this to their curriculum,” said Smith.

For example, during the winter months staff and students will germinate seeds and nurture the infant plants until they are strong enough to be transferred to the Climate Change Village outdoors.

“So they are incorporating the life cycle of plants into their curriculum.”

Not only are teachers able to inject the environment into the school day, the Livegreen Shade Theatre inside the fenced-off area allows teachers to take the curriculum out into nature. Smith said many of the students rarely get the chance to interact with nature.

“In our particular case I would say as much as 85 per cent of the kids are bused in so they don’t even get the opportunity to walk to and from school.”

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