Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools launched the Discovery School pilot-program in January as a part of the Pre-Kindergarten program being run in the clubhouse of River Bend Golf and Recreation area.
“It’s an inquiry-based program that we’re using with a Reggio Emilia approach to it, teachers and educational assistants really get to see it in action with their students,” said Suzy Potts, coordinator of early learning with Red Deer Catholic Schools who pitched the idea for the pilot project to the school board.
Discovery School has a unique play-based learning space, along with access to the Discovery Canyon playground and the forest areas to interact with nature and wildlife.
The approach comes out of Italy and focuses on natural materials and helping kids become community-minded. Students play with open-ended objects from nature or the real world like kitchen utensils, rather than single purpose plastic toys.
The philosophy is that this encourages creativity, curiosity and discovery.
“It was a good fit so we got that ball going—I’ve really enjoyed it; this is usually a pretty quiet place in the winter-time and it’s a lot more fun now,” said Brian Miller, general manager of River Bend Golf and Recreation Area.
The chef at River Bend makes snacks for the children and they get to use real dishes to eat off and then clean them in the industrial kitchen afterward.
“It’s the cutest thing you’ve ever seen,” Potts said.
“Spills are going to happen but that’s how you’re going to learn that’s how to take care of things. It gives them that kind of real world approach to things.”
This year each of the 12 pre-K classes in the City will get to come out to the Red Deer Golf Course for a week-long field trip.
The response from parents and teachers has overwhelmingly supportive of the initiative, said Potts.
If the pilot is a success, they hope to expand to a full-year program next year and include Kindergarten class and rural schools.
“Our division and early learning has been moving towards a playful learning model for our littlest ones in the division,” she said.