Liliia Smichenko, Arts Reporter
A Humber Arboretum program that encourages kids to enjoy the outdoors rather than playing video games inside their homes won an award.
Humber’s Forest Nature Program, launched three years ago, placed first among many Early Childhood Development programs and received an Edward Burtynsky award this year.
“The Forest Nature Program is a part of our daily programs that allows children a unique opportunity to explore the Humber Arboretum and build a relationship with the land,” said Kaitlyn Beard, one of the creators of the program.
The program allows children to play outside and explore their boundaries as well as nature through “risky play,” a term that’s been used a lot at the Humber Child Development Centre, but it doesn’t mean that children are risking their health.
“Taking risks, which may be just walking on a different kind of surface, doesn’t mean climbing on top of the tree,” Beard said.
The Forest Nature program started off with eight preschool children going outdoors once a week, and it soon grew to include 48 kids. The program also started including parents at least two mornings a week.
Beard said every day is rich in experiences, whether it is getting on top of a hill with the children or feeding chickadees.
“One of the best parts is seeing the children comfort level grow,” said Alessandra Silvestro, another creator of the program.
Children were hesitant at first, but with time they start getting comfortable with doing things without asking for help and they are not scared.
The kids aren’t the only ones who had to get used to going outside though. Walter Garcia, another creator of the program, said it was challenging at first.
“When I first started going to the arboretum with children, I would be so scared just letting them run freely and I would feel so nervous,” he said.
“You have to build that confidence and slowly lose the fear of engaging with outdoors.”
Beard said that when parents join them for the walks, they would express how they didn’t realize their children were so capable of climbing and balancing. they would share how astonished and proud they were.
“It is very rewarding to see parents learn more about their kids,” Garcia said.
The effort these coordinators put in when Louise Zimanyi, a professor in Humber’s Early Childhood Education program sent the form for the Edward Burtynsky award.
However, the other creators of the program didn’t expect to win it. They were all very shocked but grateful for the nomination and subsequent winning the award.
“We fortunate enough that we’ve won this award for the program, getting recognition from an organization outside of Humber community is actually really nice as well,” said Michael Carlucci, one of the Forest Nature Program creators.