“Through song and gentle words, Cara leads children through the forest and through their own development. We first met Cara after our preschool-aged son had been asked to leave every indoor program that we registered him in. His energy was bigger than any classroom could contain and his frustration was too much for any teacher. Cara welcomed our son to climb trees, dig in dirt, create mud cakes, and find edible berries. Under the forest canopy Cara offered space for our son to sit in a circle with other children for snack time and story time. She patiently helped him “use his words” instead of his pushes to communicate. He has grown into a grade schooler who loves to explore nature and finds rest among the trees.”
–‘Out and About Adventures’ parent.
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My name is Cara Agro and I am a Forest and Nature School teacher.
No statement has ever before been more true to the reality of who I am and where I feel my purpose lies. I have been a lover of natural world since I was a little girl. I would often search for small bits of nature within my urban neighbourhood in Hamilton, ON. It wasn’t unusual to find me walking up and down my street with a bag, picking up litter or bringing a small sandwich, juice and a couple of cookies to a favourite tree around the block from my home.
I have also been a caretaker of children. The oldest of my generation in my family, I was often in a position to help out with my younger sister and cousins or the many children that my mother babysat during my early years- until I was old enough to take over the babysitting jobs myself. For as long as I can remember, I have always been caring for small children- almost since I was one myself.
When I found Fresh Air Learning, about 6 years ago, I was thrilled. I was just finishing up my ECE certificate and trying to find my place in a field full of different strategies, philosophies and environments. Sitting among the large conifers, watching younger children navigate climbing stumps, using tools and just generally feeling “at home” in the forest, I knew I had found my place.
Within two years, I had helped to open the Vancouver chapter of Fresh Air Learning. I quickly became aware of the growing popularity of Forest and Nature schools in the province of British Columbia and Canada as a larger whole. Before I knew it, I was being asked to facilitate workshops; helping to spread the philosophy and practice of Forest and Nature Schools. It wasn’t long before I became motivated to help connect as many children to the natural world as I can. When Trout Lake community center contacted me, asking if I could open an outdoor program there, I was ecstatic. With the go ahead and support from Fresh Air Learning, I opened ‘Out and About Adventures’, running one day a week at Trout Lake Community Center in January 2015.
Over the last two years, I have been overwhelmed by e-mails and requests from families to run more outdoor programs. It has become apparent to me that outdoor programs are in high demand and the programs already in existence run with very long wait lists.
In my quest to connect children to the natural world, I have decided to expand ‘Out and About Adventures’ and open a program at Stanley Park come September 2017 in partnership with the Stanley Park Ecology Society. Expanding the program will require some shifting in terms of how we are set up. Expanding will mean hiring employees, and setting ourselves up as a corporation in anticipation of adding more programs gradually, over the coming years.
My hope is to raise $2000 to cover the lawyer and accountant fees involved with setting up a corporation, as well as to help with start-up costs (promotions, staff training and program materials). While still carrying a student debt load, I am hoping that this campaign will allow me to address a need within our community without putting a huge amount of strain on my personal finances.
As our modern society moves further away from the natural world, urban youth are bearing the brunt of this disconnection. Our overs-cheduled, over stimulated lives leads to busy, stressed out kids. This can manifest in all kinds of difficult behaviours and experiences. It is quite common for children to come to my programs having not found success in any other indoor programs and only to bloom and excel in the outdoor environment.
The natural world provides us with a calm amidst our urban lives; a place to breathe, room to move, and freedom to explore at your own pace. Through participating in Forest and Nature Schools, children are given a chance to visit the same natural space repeatedly, over time and as a result, they can form a relationship with it and grow to cherish the natural world. My hope is, that as these children grow they will value nature as an important part of their life experience and become advocates for the environment- helping to create a better future for all of us.
Furthermore, it is no secret that Vancouver is having capacity issues. Finding early learning programs within the city (especially in the downtown core) is proving very challenging for families. Families are feeling hopeless, put in waitlist limbo; early learning centers are feeling frustrated with small spaces and raising rents. As our city grows, the population of children grows with it and as does the need for children’s programs. Quality programming not requiring a building may be one way to help ease the strain and help address the needs of Vancouver families.
Please help me to move this movement forward. I am committing myself and my life to growing the forest and nature school movement as much as possible within beautiful British Columbia. I intend to offer support to anyone who asks and to continue offering training, workshops and new programs across the Lower Mainland as much as I am able.
Thank you for your time and consideration.