This is a personal story. One which I thought I might never get to write. It’s about being inspired to do great work for others and also wanting those close to you to benefit from that great work.
Three years ago I started working with Natural Pod, who are based on Vancouver Island. Our CEO of Play, Bridgitte Alomes and I met at the annual Social Venture Institute (SVI), of which we’re both proud alumni. This ‘chance’ meeting forged a tremendous working collaboration and great friendship. As the Director of Marketing and partner in the company, together with the Natural Pod team, we’ve transformed the business over the last few years from a consumer focused natural toy company to an educator focused, sustainably made, better learning environment business, and we’ve proudly helped put 25,000+ kids in play at over 700+ early learning centres, preschools, kindergartens and daycares. And while I’m incredibly proud of that accomplishment, something was still missing – my own kids weren’t getting to share in those benefits.
What I was missing.
As parents are apt to do, we want good experiences for own kids. In the last three years I have enjoyed being part of a team that helped organizations like Kinder Kampus, Clareview YMCA, Pear Tree NYC, Richland Academy, Jenna Goodie Love 2 Learn, Bella Terra Daycare and many, many others create better, open-ended, sustainably made learning environments. However around this same time, my own children were starting their school age experiences and while they had great local kindergarten and preschools, I wasn’t able to give them the Natural Pod experience we’ve worked so hard to create for others. The opportunity just hadn’t shown up yet.
We discovered we needed to create something different.
For the last few years our family has been a part of Wild Child, a wonderful nature-based one day a week program, and our kids have thrived in its care under the direction of its two founders, Ingrid Bauer and Jean-Claude Catry. The other families in the program were starting to ask questions about what kind of education experience we wanted for our kids.
We began to look at various models and started down the road of putting our ideas into a proposal. Through our research we discovered that great learning outcomes were the result of children being able to explore and test their limits, create new experiences, interact with kids and adults of different ages. We wanted them to develop creatively and we wanted them to be empathetic people who could create meaningful lives together and better their community, while also being able to respond to a world of deep uncertainty and change.
How can a learning environment do all that?
Yes, it’s a bit much to ask sustainably made furniture and toys to create future, model human citizens. We know that. And though, what we do know is that our learning environments, beauty and design shape our every day experiences. Both subtly and not so subtly, they guide the quality of that experience and that is the vision behind Natural Pod. We design and manufacture furniture and toys to help foster open-ended, creative learning outcomes.
How could I bring this experience to my kids?
The group of moms in the Wild Child program wanted to create a different learning experience, one that they couldn’t see elsewhere in our community. So they spent numerous days and meetings together wrestling out what it could look like. They brought their proposal to our local school district and school trustees. In this process the group found support with the district superintendent and in particular one principal who really supported the idea of outdoor nature-based learning that incorporated the provincial curriculum. There was a tremendous coming together between these moms, the district, the district superintendent, some outside advisors and the principal of the local public school.
After the program was publicly announced, there was so much interest that two more classrooms were added to the existing school. Fortunately there were two unused rooms in the school already, so new construction wasn’t required but the rooms were unfurnished and required updating. At this same time, the school district began the process of looking for qualified teachers to lead the program and found two great candidates. One of those teachers, Erika Verlinden, who was a strong advocate for open-ended, natural play based education had known about our work at Natural Pod. She became the driving force behind bringing all of these pieces together to help us create this amazing new space with our Natural Pod tables and benches as part of the experience she was helping to create for the kids.
“Natural Pod was an obvious choice for me. As the teacher in one of Salt Spring’s new multi-age nature-based classes it was imperative to have the indoor environment match the outdoor environment in terms of being calming, non-toxic, and functional. I believe Natural Pod furnishings will offer my students the same open ended play and learning spaces that they’ll benefit from outside. Additionally, from an ethical purchasing standpoint, it was important to me that we source FSC certified wood and support a local British Columbia business.” Erika Verlinden, Fernwood Elementary School
The end of summer and new beginnings.
While most of the kids are enjoying the last days of their summer, all of this work and planning has been going on. This wonderful group of people who are dedicated to helping foster great learning outcomes and the best possible learning experience for our kids have really shown up to help make this new program possible.
Next week we get into the freshly painted classrooms to help set up the furniture. I’ll get to be part of my first install with the help of a number of other families and kids in the program. We’re getting them involved in helping to set up their classrooms. What better way to get them excited about this new year of learning and fun and play.
Thank you to all those who helped make this possible for the kids at Fernwood Elementary on Salt Spring Island. Enjoy these last days of summer. We’ll share more of this story in the coming weeks as these new beginnings really start to take shape this coming fall,
Director of Marketing / Partner
Take a peek inside the pick up and delivery of these Natural Pod tables and benches for Fernwood Elementary: