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Wild child: Group uses Charlottetown micro-grant to introduce children to the outdoors

Hannah Gehrels co-ordinates a program called Wild Child Forest School that introduces children to nature. Last year, the program receives a City of Charlottetown micro-grant that enabled the organization to purchase outdoor gear for kids who participated. The city is now accepting applications for 2019 micro-grants.
Hannah Gehrels co-ordinates a program called Wild Child Forest School that introduces children to nature. Last year, the program receives a City of Charlottetown micro-grant that enabled the organization to purchase outdoor gear for kids who participated. The city is now accepting applications for 2019 micro-grants. - Dave Stewart
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

Over the past two years, Hannah Gehrels has seen how spending time outdoors can transform a child.

As the co-ordinator for the Wild Child Forest School, she is looking forward to continuing that transformation in 2019 through the program that awakens a child’s sense of wonder, curiosity and excitement in discovering new mysteries in nature.

Wild Child, open to children 3-13, takes place in nature, entirely outdoors for the duration of the program, rain or shine. About to enter its third season, was one of the City of Charlottetown’s micro-grants recipients in 2018. It had 98 children registered in 2017, and 338 participated last year.

“The Charlottetown micro-grant was certainly a huge player in contributing to the success of the program in our second year – and that huge growth. We’re really excited for our third year. We’ve got some new programs planned (and) some new ideas.’’

The city’s micro-grant program was developed in 2011 in order to support community groups and individuals in their sustainability-focused projects. It offers small-scale grants to community groups and individuals that are planning an event or project that works towards the city’s Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP). It is now accepting applications for the 2019 grant program.

Gehrels said Wild Child helps address what she said someone once called a nature deficit disorder.

“We’re seeing a greater trend in kids spending more time in front of screens and less and less time playing (outside),’’ said Gehrels, who is talking about recreational time and fully acknowledges that plenty of kids playing structured activities such as soccer.

Hannah Gehrels, co-ordinator for the Wild Child Forest School program in Charlottetown, talks to children about wildlife, one of the many activities the program offers. - Contributed
Hannah Gehrels, co-ordinator for the Wild Child Forest School program in Charlottetown, talks to children about wildlife, one of the many activities the program offers. - Contributed

Every session begins with the kids in a circle to find out what they want to do on that specific day. Regular activities have included things like teaching kids how to climb trees safely, identify local flora and fauna, build forts, learn bird calls, explore natural areas, develop physical literacy skills and, depending on the age of the child, learn to use tools like saws, hammers and drills.

Gehrels said they received some money from the United Way to pay for 30 per cent of all of the spots in the program so the cost wouldn’t be a barrier to parents.

The city’s micro-grant amounted to $1,100.

“(It) helped us buy a bunch of gear like rain pants and warm sweaters and mittens so that we could have the gear on hand,’’ Gehrels said.

“If any child showed up to the program without the proper gear, we could give it to them. It’s expensive to buy, and to find rain pants for kids in Charlottetown is really difficult.’’

Gehrels said these kinds of experiences stick with children for years and help build personal resilience and well-being.

“It improves empathy and it improves teamwork. It improves their cognitive functioning and their ability to problem solve and reason.’’

Twitter.com/DveStewart

Just the facts

  • Wild Child Forest School is open to children 3-13 (they have to be potty-trained).
  • The program begins in May and runs through the year. Registration for the spring and summer is now open.
  • For more information, go to wildchildatlantic.ca, email peiwildchild@sierraclub.ca or call 902-940-2263.
  • The City of Charlottetown is now accepting applications for 2019 micro-grants. Applications are selected by a committee and grants are available up to a maximum of $2,500.
  • The deadline to submit an application is 4 p.m. on Tuesday, April 23.

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