CHURCH POINT, N.S. – Sainte-Anne University recently welcomed 20 preschoolers and their parents for a nature-themed workshop.
Over the course of the day, children had the opportunity to participate in observation, gardening, and arts and crafts activities. They also took part in a guided walk through the campus’s wooded trails.
“The event allowed us to spark the scientific interest of young children. The observation activities with microscopes in the university greenhouse gave children the chance to discover the natural sciences from a new angle,” said Valérie Lalande, co-organizer of the project.
The main objective was to nurture children’s curiosity towards the natural world.
“Children today spend a lot of time interacting with screens at the expense of time spent playing outdoors or with other children,” said Caroline Fitzpatrick, professor of psychology and organizer of the event.
“Nature’s Friends allowed children to have fun while engaging with the environment that surrounds them,” Professor Fitzpatrick added. “We hope this activity will sensitize parents about the educational potential of horticulture and outdoor activities. We also hope it will help young families create links between each other as well as with the academic community of Sainte-Anne.”
This activity also allowed the organizers to examine the feasibility of using horticulture to support the cognitive, physical, and social development of young children.
The benefits of horticulture for the physical and mental health of adults have been well documented. For example, gardening has been shown to reduce blood pressure and stress and to enhance attention and motor skills in adolescents and adults. The potential role of such activities for the development of younger children remains to be examined. Another objective for the organizing team will be to sensitize local elementary and high school teachers about the learning opportunities that are available for their students at Université Sainte-Anne.
“It is well known that real life contexts benefit student learning,” said Elizabeth Harvey, professor of education. “We want elementary and secondary schools to benefit from the resources here at Sainte-Anne.”
During the next year, the organizers intend on holding other nature-themed workshops in different seasonal contexts. Fitzpatrick plans to evaluate the role of horticulture and outdoor play for the school readiness and health of young children.
About the organizers
* Caroline Fitzpatrick is a professor of psychology at Université Sainte-Anne and a researcher at Concordia University’s PERFORM Centre.
* Valérie Lalande is a research professional at the Laboratory for Innovation in Science and Industry (LISI)
* Élizabeth Harvey is a professor of education at Université Sainte-Anne and Ph.D. candidate in psychoéducation at Université Sherbrook