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Back to nature at the Cambridge Farm and Forest School

The Cambridge Farm & Forest School offers a combination of forest school philosophy and agriculture literacy for children 3-12 years of age

Surrounded by trees on a crisp fall day, two boys work together to gather branches and build their magical place, a fort in the forest.

Located only minutes from town, on a privately owned 150-acre farm and forest, the Cambridge Farm & Forest School is nestled in the countryside of North Dumfries Township.

The Farm & Forest School offers a combination of forest school philosophy and agriculture literacy for children 3 to 12 years of age.

Founded by Heather Figueiredo on her family property in 2019, the non-for-profit organization is an Ontario private and certified Forest School that provides alternative education and programming.

Figueiredo knew there was more to education than being in a traditional classroom setting. Experiential and inquiry-based learning spoke deeply to her as an educator and reminded her of her own childhood, her love for the outdoors, and growing up on a farm with animals.

“My oma and opa settled here. It’s the perfect location, close to town, but with acres of land with opportunities for kids to learn", says Figueiredo, founder and director.

The school offers children opportunities to gain experience with nature and animals while engaging in a variety of curriculum topics including science, technology, engineering, mathematics, literacy, the arts, health and physical education and socio-emotional literacy.

“This is a supplemental learning program. Kids generally attend about one to three days a week,” says Brittany Kivell, assistant director. “The focus is more on emergent and play based learning, all outdoors.”

Qualified educators are committed to place and play-based, emergent, and inquiry-driven teaching and learning They encourage children to assess risks, exercise inquiry, and practice environmental stewardship, skills that will be useful in the future.

“My background is in early childhood education. When I heard about this, I jumped on board. I see the amazing benefits And I am a true believer in outdoor education,” Kivell said.

“And the kids show so much pride in it. They are often involved in 'risky play' and do things out of the norm and in their own way, like climbing a tree, building a fire, or using tools. Children need risky play. It helps with their decision-making skills.”

The Farm & Forest School mission is to provide children with opportunities to advance their education by exploring a natural space, caring for animals, identifying and navigating risk, gaining transferable life and leadership skills and being contributing members of a community through the natural world. 

A barn on the site was built in the late 1800s and has been refurbished to house cows, chickens, donkeys, sheep, dogs, cats, alpacas and a rabbit. Animals are cared for daily with the help of dedicated staff and volunteers.

“Part of the day involves looking after the animals and feeding them. This is great because many children don’t have a connection with animals especially bigger animals like the cows or the alpacas, so they gain confidence when looking after the animals. We’ve also just harvested soybeans. Children learn how and where their food comes from,” Kivell said.

“It’s about learning to slow down. It forces a mindfulness not only in relation to children and their peers, but with the land, so we can all be the future caretakers of the land."

During the pandemic, parents have explored new and innovative ways to connect children with their natural outdoor surroundings. 

The Cambridge Farm and Forest School has seen a surge in interest, said Figueiredo.

“Especially during the pandemic, with kids learning online or being homeschooled, parents could see the benefits of our program. Being away from a desk, and time in nature helps regulate behaviours. We offer a place where kids can be outside, take leadership and thrive,” Figueiredo said.

“It’s a wonderful way to break up their week. Because we a supplemental program, we have school-aged kids coming for one day a week. Most schools see the benefits and we always encourage teachers to reach out to us.”

Programs at the school are available on a part-time or full-time basis, with different age groups, and in all seasons. While standing in a majestic forest, hunting for mushrooms, or climbing a tree, children can find magic in the outdoor world around them.

According to the school, The Forest and Nature School movement is growing worldwide, from Scandinavia, and the UK, to Korea, Australia, and beyond.

Today, the Cambridge Farm and Forest School has over 84 families enrolled, with about 40-50 children taking part in daily programming.

“Children at play in nature” is what is at the heart of the Cambridge Farm and Forest School.

A group of children enter the “secret forest”. They begin to wander and explore.

“It’s a time for them to slow-down and reflect,” Figueiredo said.

“And that’s when we see them grow.”

For more information about the Cambridge Farm and Forest School visit here.

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Barbara Latkowski

About the Author: Barbara Latkowski

Barbara graduated with a Masters degree in Journalism from Western University and has covered politics, arts and entertainment, health, education, sports, courts, social justice, and issues that matter to the community
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