For this Hudson play group, nature is a jungle gym — and a classroom

A new “school” in Hudson sees the town’s forests not only as nature’s playground, but as its own — and as its classroom — with trees as a jungle gym. 

The Hudson Forest School held an open house Friday in the surrounding woodlands, where it plans to hold the programming three mornings every week. 

About a dozen children under the ages of six, and their parents, gathered to wander the paths shielded by the canopy of Hudson’s old pine growth. 

They climbed trees, uncovered snake skin, discovered berries, and jumped on and off logs.

“I go to forest school,” said two-year old Penelope through sips of her fruit snack. She is one of the play group’s founding students.

hudson forest school

Penelope and Annabel collect and play with little apples that fell to the ground. (CBC)

Her parents, Amanda MacDonald and former NDP MP Jamie Nicholls, founded the play group this year, which is officially an incorporated not-for-profit. It doesn’t hold a daycare or preschool permit yet, but acts as a type of day camp and play group. 

MacDonald says the couple saw a need in the community for a part-time program for young children that gets them playing in the wild, instead of in the typically cloistered plastic and metal play areas of schools and daycares.

Day’s schedule based on how kids feel

“They just make themselves right at home in the forest,” MacDonald told CBC News Friday. “Around every corner, there’s acorns and centipedes, and interesting things to look at.”

The program runs three hours, starting at 8:30 a.m. with “morning circle time,” when the children may sing or play music with different instruments. 

hudson forest school

The program starts off with ‘morning circle time’ at 8:30 a.m. three days a week. (CBC)

After that, “it’s really child-centered,” said MacDonald, adding that the schedule is flexible. “It’s all about where the kids are leading us.”

“When the kids seem hungry and they start sitting on logs, maybe it’s rest time and snack time.”

In the winter, MacDonald and Nicholls plan to continue the program but add breaks every 45 minutes or so for the children to warm up inside or in a wind-blocking structure.

A growing trend in North America

Forest schools are a well-known movement in Europe, with dozens of similar programs in Germany and Scandinavian countries. More recently, the trend has headed east to North America, where forest schools are popping up in the United States and across Canada. 

There is even an organization, the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada, that aims to keep track of them all. 

hudson forest school

The shed skin of a garter snake was just one of the discoveries made during Hudson Forest School’s open house Friday. (CBC)

Angela Galuppo, who moved to Hudson from Montreal a year and a half ago so she and her family could be closer to nature, was at the open house with her two children Friday. 

She met MacDonald and Nicholls soon after she moved, and said the couple was already talking about the idea.

‘They fight less’

“They were just like, ‘Let’s do it!’ And I think that’s just what it needed, was for someone to say, ‘Well, we have forests, we have beautiful nature, natural areas, why can’t we have one here.'”

hudson forest school

Trees are a jungle gym at the new Hudson Forest School, a play group that aims to get children to explore the outdoors. (CBC)

Galuppo and MacDonald say they’ve noticed the positive effect nature has had on their children.

“They’re communicating really well, they fight less,” MacDonald said. 

“There are things to push and there are logs to break apart … so having these changing substances allow the kids to let out their energy in a really positive way.” 

It’s $200 to become a member of the group on top of enrolment fees, for which there are discounts if a parent volunteers or if they register more than one child. 

It can cost up to $600 for the first month and between $375 and $400 per month after that, which amounts to about $11 an hour.

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