Outdoor Kindergarten Program
Toronto District School Board's (TDSB) Equinox Holistic Alternative School (Equinox) has led the way in holistic education for almost a decade in Canada. Other countries like Finland, Holland and Sweden also recognize the benefits to holistic education and have actively adopted many holistic best practices into their educational systems. Our school has attracted national and international interest, especially our full-day outdoor kindergarten program which is one of the first of its kind in Canada.
"The best classroom and richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky."
In all sorts of weather, our mornings together are spent mostly outside under the beautiful linden trees of our outdoor classroom, or on walks to nearby green spaces. In the afternoons, we gather in our indoor learning space for time with books and paper and art that wouldn’t fare as well in the elements.
Holistic Education teaches the head, the hands, and the heart.
Honouring a reciprocal relationship with the land and all those who live on it means we respect and incorporate Indigenous knowledge, learn about local flora and fauna, and work hard to be caretakers of the land as well as being gratefully aware of the ways the land cares for us. In cultivating a deep connection to the land, we help your child understand that we live in partnership with the land.
“Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.” Robin Wall Kimmerer
Some of what to expect
The rhythm of our days
9:00 a.m. Our days begin at with a morning circle where songs and oral stories are shared, and the teachers and students co-plan for the morning ahead. Two days a week the class prepares to leave and spend the morning in a nearby park or ravine. On the other days, self-directed play and group projects are the focus of our mornings outdoors - with the teachers infusing literacy and mathematics into the activities happening around the space.
Each day looks a bit different, with the weather and the children’s interests guiding our activities. Some mornings we are immersed in water play using our watering cans, wooden channels, and water wall; other days, the children are creating scavenger hunts, tending the plants in our space, or building forts and dens.
Snacks are generally eaten throughout the day whenever children are hungry. Snacks are kept outside in the morning so that students are welcome to head to their snack bin and get something to eat or drink at any point. In colder seasons, we often snack together inside - it's very hard to eat with mittens!
Story of the Week - A regular part of our routine is to share in the dramatic retelling of stories and fables from around the world. As the week progresses, each child is given a chance to participate in whatever ways feel good to them. Some weeks we add costumes and musical instruments and others we focus on the language and poetry of a story.
Each day the children spend some time with either the Librarian, Music teacher or Gym teacher. These classes are taught indoors and out depending on the weather and often connect to the learning happening in the main classroom at the time, as the teachers all collaborate when it comes to curriculum.
Lunch: Children are given 25-30 minutes to eat in their classroom with a lunchroom supervisor before getting dressed to head back outside for some play in the big kindergarten yard! Any child who eats slowly is always given time to eat again throughout the afternoon, including a healthy snack of fruit and vegetables offered by our wonderful community-supported snack program.
The afternoons are spent mainly indoors (although in beautiful weather we often move between our indoor and outdoor spaces). This is when direct lessons in math and language occur, and students and teachers have time to work and play in large groups, small groups and individually throughout the afternoon.
3:00 p.m. Our day ends as it begins, with a closing circle outdoors at our stump circle just before our 3 p.m. pick-up time. Our closing circle is another chance to come together and sing, to share what we are grateful for, and to give the class a chance to reflect on the day they’ve just had as well as make plans for tomorrow.
Each week the teachers send families an email sharing what has been happening in the class, and what events are coming up so that parents and guardians can easily volunteer for trips, attend special events, and feel connected to the classroom throughout the year.
Recommended clothing list
Because we spend so much time outdoors, appropriate attire is very important for keeping little learners most comfortable. (And Equinox kindie families do A LOT of laundry - the volume of mud will amaze you!) We have a volunteer-run sharing closet of soft clothes and rain and winter gear in the school, to make things easier on family budgets and the earth (school families can ask the office).
- a change of clothes (2-3 underwear, shirts, and pair of socks to keep at school)
- high rain boots (not ankle boots)
- high winter boots that are easy to pull off and on (we've found Bogs and similar styles to be great for most kids)
- waterproof (not water-resistant) raincoat
- waterproof rain pants (with elasticized bottoms for fall and spring)
- runners (no open-toed shoes)
- sun hat
- winter coat
- snow pants or snowsuit
- warm hat
- 2-3 pairs of warm, waterproof gloves/mittens that are easy to put on and pick things up in
- wool or other warm/dry socks
- neck warmer/tube
Volunteerism is a value
Equinox families are so important to our programming. Our nature walks are possible because of parents, grandparents, and guardians who sign up to join us (there is no better way to attune yourself to the changing seasons and the beauty of this land!). Others may support with the sharing closet, or cutting up materials for a craft. There are many ways to be involved. So much of what we do wouldn't be possible without the engagement and care of families.