Parents and caregivers interested in registering their child for a Forest School program are advised to read our Parent Handbook before doing so. You can also download this document as a PDF.
little pine learning parent handbook
Core Values, Vision and Mission Statements
- Children have the right to experience the developmental benefits of playing in nature.
- Children are innately curious and given time and space, will be motivated to lead their own learning which can then be supported by experienced and knowledgeable educators.
- Children of all abilities can engage in nature-based experiences each in their own way.
- Children have capacity for empathy and can care for themselves, each other and the environment providing this capacity is fostered by nurturing adults.
Little Pine Learning sees children and their families as integral in caring for and protecting our planet. Children and families that engage in place-based learning experiences will discover a holistic approach to learning and connecting with nature and will be more likely to care deeply about and for the environment.
To offer an alternative approach to learning by providing inclusive nature-play experiences that will foster a better understanding of how land-based learning leads to environmental stewardship and the healthy development of children, families and community.
Guiding Principles of Forest and Nature School Canada (FNSC)
When implementing Forest and Nature School Canada programs, we are committed to upholding the principles outlined in the Forest and Nature School Canada: A Head, Heart, Hands Approach to Outdoor Learning document.
Forest and Nature School:
- is a long-term process of frequent and regular sessions in the same natural space (local forests, creeks, meadows, prairie grasses, mountains, shorelines, tundra, natural playgrounds and outdoor classrooms).
- takes place regularly, ideally at least every other week, with the same group of learners, over an extended period of time encompassing the seasons.
- is rooted in building an on-going relationship to place and on principles of place-based education.
- follows the renewing pedagogical cycles of observation, emergent research and pedagogical documentation
- has a structure which is based on the observations and collaborative work between learners and practitioners.
- acknowledges that First Nations, Inuit and Metis were learning and living on these lands long before our arrival
- is rooted in and supports building engaged, healthy, vibrant, and diverse communities
- aims to promote the holistic development of children and youth
- views children and youth as competent and capable learners
- supports children and youth, with supportive and knowledgeable educators, to identify, co-manage and navigate risk. Opportunity to experience risk is seen as an integral part of learning and healthy development
- requires qualified Forest and Nature School practitioners who are rooted in and committed to FNSC pedagogical theory and practical skills
- requires that educators play the role of facilitator rather than expert
- uses loose, natural materials to support open-ended experiences
- values the process of learning as much as the outcome
- requires that educators utilize emergent, experiential, inquiry-based, play-based, and place-based learning approaches
- advocates that programs constantly monitor their ecological impact and work within a sustainable site management plan agreed upon by the Forest School Practitioner and the learners
- follows high ratio of staff to learners
- is backed by relevant working documents, which contain all the policies and procedures required for running FNSC and which establish the roles and responsibilities of staff and volunteers
- encourages practitioners to model the pedagogy, which is promoted during the FNSC program through careful planning, appropriate dialogue and relationship building
- believes that play and choice are an integral part of the learning process, and play is recognized as vital to learning and development
- provides a stimulus for all learning styles, preferences and dispositions
Terms and Conditions
To register for Little Pine Learning’s Forest School sessions, please fill out the registration form (Part A and Part B if your child has additional needs).
A $70.00 deposit is required at the time of registration with the balance of fees required 30 days in advance of Forest School session start date.
Assumption of Risk and Permission form must be emailed back to LPL prior to the commencement of the first session noting that you give consent.
- 30 or more days notice: FULL REFUND minus a $25.00 administration fee
- 14-29 days notice: 50% REFUND
- Less than 14 days notice: NO REFUND AVAILABLE
- Refunds will not be given if the day’s sessions need to be cancelled due to inclement weather.
- A child who is absent or leaves for a portion of the day due to illness or injury or any other reason will not be refunded any portion of that day’s fees, however if the child is unable to return thereafter for remaining sessions, consideration for refund may be made depending on the circumstances.
Health and Safety Policies
Little Pine Learning takes the privacy of its clients and visitors seriously, and we have taken steps to protect it. Any personal data shared with us, including photographic images, will be processed strictly in accordance with privacy legislation and will be used for the purposes that you have consented to. We will not share details with third parties without consent, except where we are legally compelled or obligated to do so. Please contact Little Pine Learning if you have any questions or concerns about protecting the privacy of the information you provide.
In the following cases, we ask that participants (including students, teachers, and accompanying volunteers) stay home from Forest School for at least 24 hours after their last symptom has subsided:
- Temperature over 101 degrees F or 38.3 degrees C
- Diarrhea (watery, profuse stools)
Should the above-mentioned situations arise while at Forest School, a parent or caregiver will be called to pick up their child.
Participants affected by communicable diseases including, but not limited to, measles, chicken pox, mumps, flu, strep throat, viral pneumonia, conjunctivitis (pink-eye), etc., are asked to stay home from Forest School until their health care provider has communicated that it is safe for them to attend. Any outbreak of communicable disease will be communicated to parents via email. Head lice is not considered a communicable disease but rather an annoying condition which spreads rapidly. If a participant is affected by head lice or nits are present we ask that you:
- Contact staff immediately so that other families can be informed (the affected individuals will remain anonymous)
- Follow the treatment suggestions from Alberta Health Services’s web page on headlice:
For each group of children registered for block sessions of Forest School, we will generate a list of food restrictions and allergies. Children will primarily bring their own snacks, however at times food may be brought to share with the participants. For general food allergy information, refer to Alberta Health Services web page: https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/nutrition/Page8944.aspx
Toilet and Handwashing Procedures
Most sites that we choose to run Forest School sessions in will have indoor bathroom facilities with running water and changing facilities. For the times that our location does not have bathroom facilities, we have portable washroom facilities. All children will be taken to the bathroom during a 2.5 to 3 hour session and also taken to the bathroom when they make a spontaneous request. In addition, we are an inclusive Forest School program and therefore we expect that there are children registered who may not be toilet trained. An adult will assist children who are not independent in toileting self-care. Children will use soap and water to wash hands in the bathrooms or at our base camp. Only staff or volunteers with a current Vulnerable Sector Check will perform bathroom duties with the children. Please discuss and make specific arrangements with the LPL staff if there are toileting requirements for your child.
Risk Management – Individual Risk or “Risky Play”
We believe that, while there are risks that must be considered, there are also a wide range of potential benefits that can be gained by “risky play”. We also recognise that taking risks is an important part of learning and developing and we want to provide a safe and supportive environment in which participants can learn about risks, challenges and personal safety. For more information on the research in the area of child injuries and risky play check out the article on Risky Play in the Resources section of the website.
Risk Management – Site Risk/Benefit Assessment, Dynamic Risk Assessment and General Safety
- A detailed risk assessment is in place for the site and a dynamic risk assessment is done prior to and during each site visit.
- Session sites are set up in a safe space with boundaries and safety guidelines.
- We conduct head counts throughout the session, especially before and after transitions to different areas.
- Maintain two (three/four)-way communication between practitioners by way of cell phones.
Emergency Procedure and First Aid Policies
Little Pine Learning staff are familiar with the Accident Reporting and First Aid Policy. Most emergencies can be resolved on-the-spot by an LPL staff removing the group from potential threat and providing first aid. However, in the event of a serious incident, which could arise as a result of an injury, illness or threat, emergency services should be contacted and the following procedures followed:
- Secure safety of whole group from further danger. Stop all work/activities if safe. Call in and locate group promptly as agreed with group in advance. If possible, remove whole group from any further danger or threat of danger.
- First Aider to attend to any casualties with adult helper and with regard for maintenance of required supervision ratios for the rest of the party. At least one first aider must be on site at all times. A record of changes in casualties’ state and anything administered to them to be made if possible.
- Emergency services contacted as necessary, ideally by an adult helper. Charged mobile phones are carried by staff. Dispatch a volunteer to meet emergency vehicle at the entrance to the site.
- Safety of the rest of group will be maintained by the remaining staff and adults away from the scene of the incident.
- Accident report form and/or first aid book should be filled in and stored in emergency binder. This should be filled in whenever the emergency plan is used even if no one was harmed
Participant to Staff Ratios
Our participant to staff ratios vary depending on the program offered and can range from 1:3 ratios to 1:5 ratio.
Child Protection Policy
It is the responsibility of every person in Alberta, including a person who performs professional or official duties with respect to children, to immediately report to Alberta Human Services if s/he suspects that child abuse has occurred or if a child is at risk of abuse: “Under the provision of the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, (Enhancement Act), any person who suspects a child may be abused or neglected by the parent/guardian has a legal obligation to report the matter immediately to a Children’s Services caseworker.” (Province of Alberta: Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act. February 2019)
Staff Responsibilities (include the following, but are not limited to)
- Follow the guidelines provided by Alberta Health Services regarding Covid-19.
- Maintain a safe environment by conducting risk assessments and following safety principles.
- Model a positive attitude towards all types of weather as well as all creatures.
- Model appropriate clothing by dressing for the weather.
- Observe the children’s interactions with each other and with nature.
- Encourage children’s independence.
- Step back to observe as much as possible, however recognize opportunities to scaffold learning when it’s beneficial.
- Work collaboratively as a team to co-assess and co-manage risk with children on an ongoing basis.
- Work as a team to ensure all children feel comfortable in nature and feel a sense of belonging within the group.
- Model a positive attitude towards all types of weather as well as all creatures.
- As a team, model and foster social-emotional learning skills and nurture a culture of curiosity where children can feel confident enough to take risks and ask the questions necessary for deep inquiry.
- Model respect, care, and empathy for the natural world and each other.
- Ensure children have opportunities to go to the bathroom.
- Ensure hygiene of children during bathroom and snack times.
- Follow emergency procedures when the situation warrants it.
Volunteer/Accompanying Adult Responsibilities
- Familiarity and basic understanding of what Forest & Nature School in Canada means (see “principles of Forest and Nature School in Canada” section of this Handbook).
- Model a positive attitude towards all types of weather as well as all creatures.
- Familiarity with the basic structure of a Forest School session, but understand that sometimes things will be flexible to follow children’s interests and learning. Please come prepared with the appropriate clothing (see guide on layering for kids-the same applies for adults!).
- Understand the nature of supporting children in assessing risk and risky play (please read the sections on risk management in this handbook as well as the article in the Resources section of the website.
- Understand “co-construction of knowledge” rather than “empty vessel” approach to educating (i.e. we are there to support self-led learning where the child’s curiosity prompts questions and we guide them in the process of finding the answers themselves rather than transfer our knowledge to them). In all things early childhood education: Process over product!
- Step back and notice what children are exploring; what is catching their attention? – these are the sparks for learning, and remember the child doesn’t have to be verbal to communicate interest, curiosity or experimentation.
- Practice “wondering” to model curiosity – the learning starts when we wonder (ask a question), BUT, be cautious not to ask questions to “test” – we aren’t looking for the right answer, we’re looking and listening for children’s predictions, ideas, and hypotheses.
- Think about “Mr. Potato Head in the Forest”: model how we can use our 5 senses: “I hear a bird…I wonder where it is?”; “I see some little bugs under this log, I wonder what they are doing?; “I noticed when I bend this pine needle, I can smellit. Hmmm I wonder if a stick (leaf, moss etc.) has a smell?”; “I notice this rock feels smooth on one side, but it feelsbumpy on this part.”; “The tea tastes sweet.”
- Offer your input/observations to the LPL staff for “backwards planning” (planning for next session based on current session: “What? So what? Now what?”
Preparing for FNS: Clothing Lists for the Seasons
Before each session, you will receive a more extensive supply list with your registration package.
- Winter hat (must cover ears and stay on the head)
- Balaclava or neck warmer (no scarves please due to risk of strangulation)
- Two pairs of warm, waterproof mitts
- Warm waterproof jacket
- Warm waterproof snow pants (preferably with bib and straps as these don’t let snow get at waist)
- One set of warm, waterproof boots
- Wool (or other non-cotton socks)
- Non-cotton base layers
- Rain gear (waterproof boots, pants, jacket), with extra insulation on colder days
- Wool (or other non-cotton) socks on colder days (they insulate even when wet)
- Running shoes
- Sun Hat (for warmer months)
- Warmer sweater or jacket for colder days
- Rain gear (waterproof boots, pants, jacket)
- running shoes (please no open toe shoes)
- sun hat
- light weight (ex: silk/cotton); no shorts or tank tops, please.
- Rain gear (waterproof boots, pants, jacket)
- Sneakers for running (please no open toe shoes even in summer)
- Sun Hat/ warmer hat (for warmer months)
- warm jacket (fleece or other breathable fabric ideal)
Inclement Weather Cancellation Policy
In the event that the weather or road conditions make travel to and from a Forest School session unsafe for either Forest School staff or participants, we will cancel the session for that day. Parents/guardians/caregivers will be notified by phone at least one hour prior to the time the session would have commenced.
Extreme Weather Policy
The forecast will be consulted the day of a Forest School session, and weather-related safety is considered in all decision-making (how long to be outside without the shelter of a building).
In the case of predicted thunder and lightning or high winds, Forest School staff/volunteers will seek a nearby building for shelter if possible, and depending on the length of time the weather is expected to last, either parents will be called for an early pick-up or we will wait out the weather if that is a reasonable option. In the case of extreme cold (-15 C with the wind chill factor or below) or extreme heat (31C or higher), Forest School staff/volunteers will limit participants’ length of exposure based on age/outerwear, and will constantly assess participants’ comfort and safety, watching for signs of frostbite, hypothermia, heat exhaustion, etc.
Procedures for Tool Use
Using a range of tools may be part of some activities and is an important part of our work as it enables participants to develop new practical skills that help develop self-confidence. A child or children engaging in an activity using a tool will be highly supervised. Tools that may be used include potato peelers, bow saws, pruning saws, loppers, hammers, and drills. The following guidelines are to be followed when using tools:
- The FNS practitioner will check all tools and ensure they are in good condition for continued use before the session.
- Only tools that are in safe working order shall be supplied for use.
- Correct and safe use of sharp tools will be demonstrated to children.
- Tools will be kept in a designated safe area when not in use – no tools will be left unattended outside this area.
- Saw guard will be replaced immediately after use
- Walking around with tools will not be permitted.
- Safe working distances and suitable ratios will be maintained at all times.
Fires can be an important part of Forest School sessions. We will ensure that children participating in sessions with fires will do so safely and with as little risk as possible. Fires will only be built when and where it is appropriate to do so.
- The educators will explain the importance of using wood that is dry. Children will learn that deadwood from the forest will not be used, as it’s important habitat for small creatures such as insects.
- Smoke inhalation will be reduced by burning dry wood. Those in smoky areas will be encouraged to move to less smoky areas.
- A lit fire will be supervised by an adult at all times, as will all cooking activities.
- Related safety equipment, including heat-proof gloves, a burns kit and water will be kept within close range of fires.
- All fires should be fully extinguished at the end of the session before the site is vacated.
Learning and Development
Planning, Observation and Documentation
- Flight: Alberta’s Early Learning and Care Curriculum Framework – Play, Participation, Possibilities
- Use of “Backwards Planning” meaning through observation of children and their interests during a single session, information is gained as to where to take the learning for the next session. For example, if one day children come across tadpoles and spend half an hour excitedly observing them we would plan to build on this and take the learning further. The educator (FNS practitioner) could create more of a focus on learning around the topic of frogs by bringing field guides about frogs, books, discussions to provoke questions about frogs i.e. “I wonder where the frogs live? Where do they go when it gets dark? I wonder what kinds of homes they live in? How do they move their bodies? If we closed our eyes and listened, I wonder if we could hear frogs? What sound do they make?” In other words, we use curiosity phrases and questions that keep a child interested in learning more!
Behaviour Management Policy
We use ‘positive discipline’ and work hard to create a caring and supportive environment where everyone can succeed. To this end, challenging behaviour is actually reduced or non-existent. The following examples are some of the ways we set up a positive environment for learning and exploration:
- We phrase directions positively using “yes” (positive) language: “We can drag our big sticks behind us when we walk” VS “Don’t wave that stick around.”
- We talk about “taking turns and waiting for turns” VS “sharing” which is ambiguous for young children and in their mind usually means giving something up.
- We use frequent ‘vicarious praise’ when we see some children demonstrating the behaviour we want to see more of– “Wow, friends, take a look over here – Anna is moving her body away from the group so she has lots of space to wave her stick in the air! That’s showing us how to be safe with sticks!”
- In the event of a child feeling upset, we use strategies that help empower children to self-regulate and calm down (deep breathing or making another choice of what would help them feel better) and often engage peers in the process to nurture empathy between members of the group.
- We help children learn to approach problem solving with a positive attitude.
- If a child’s behaviour is such that they are harming themselves, others or things, we will keep other children safe by finding a quiet place away from the group for the distressed child to calm down.
Inclusion and Accessibility
The Little Pine Learning staff has extensive background in supporting inclusion in the early years. Little Pine Learning strives to include children of ALL abilities, socio-economic status, or ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Forest School sessions are held in different natural locations in the greater Edmonton area which allows us to arrange for locations with the least restrictive accessibility for the specific participants registered in a particular session. We will work closely with parents to make adaptations and/or accommodations to our location and programming in order for your child to have a successful experience. If your child is part of an educational program and has an Individual Program Plan (IPP- Alberta Education) or has an agreement through Family Supports for Children with Disabilities (IFSP-Alberta Human Services) you are welcome to share your child’s goals and strategies with us, so we can support them in the best way possible within our own scope of practice in the Forest School environment. Please contact the lead FNS practitioner to arrange for this discussion.
Email communication with Little Pine Learning staff will be received by the Lead FNS Practitioner and re-directed to the appropriate staff member as necessary.
Parents will provide emergency contact information that will be kept current. The lead FNS practitioner will have a cell phone that is kept on site in case she needs to be contacted in an emergency situation.
Questions, Concerns & Grievance Policy
Any communication about the Forest School sessions should be directed to Valerie Epp, Lead FNS Practitioner.
Children and adults on Forest School adventures will be immersed in the FS ethos which involves an ethic of care as part of environmental sustainability. The lead FNS Practitioner will conduct Ecological Impact Assessments of each site before a block of sessions take place and will co-assess impact with the children on a session by session basis.