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E.C.O. Program

E.C.O. Program Logo

Educating Children Outside

Nature Preschool Kids 1 child standing in hollowed out tree Nature Preschool Kids 2

Children belong outside! Connecting through nature-based full year early childhood education will help foster a sense of wonder, curiosity and imagination as children experience and engage with the natural world around them. ECE led emergent and play based curriculum.

Sept. 2015 -June 2016 (3-5yrs)

Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary
Vicki Finucane-Bell ECESwan Lake Small Logo

3 yr olds - TuTh (birthday in 2012*)
(*child must be 3yrs as of Oct. 1st, 2015)
Tu / Th            Sept. 2015– June 2016          9:00am – 12:00pm      $169/month  *FULL - taking waitlist

4 yr olds (birthday in 2011*)
(*child must be 4 as of Oct. 1st, 2015)
M/W/F            Sept 2015– June 2016          9:00am – 12:00pm      $244/month *FULL - taking waitlist

Laughing child Mushrooms child with plant

Beaver Lake Regional Park
Carol Martello ECE, SophieSuzuki ECE & Sarah Poirier MScCRD Logo

3 yr olds (birthday in 2012*)
(*child must be 3yrs as of Oct. 1st, 2015)
Tu / Th            Sept. 2015– June 2016          9:00am – 12:00pm      $169/month *FULL - taking waitlist

4 yr olds (birthday in 2011*)
(*child must be 4 as of Oct. 1st, 2015)
M/W/F            Sept 2015– June 2016          9:00am – 12:00pm      $244/month

*Interested in an afternoon option? Please contact Dr. Chris Filler for more information @, 250-475-7107.


Why register for E.C.O?Nature preschool group walking the trails

There are many benefits of connecting young children through experiential play based environments. Too often children are not given the opportunity to connect their early learning with meaningful interactions with the natural world. With nature as teacher, there is a world of possibilities at the finger tips of each student. An emergent curriculum focuses attention on what the child is noticing in nature while exploring meaning attributed to that interaction. Social interaction with peers combined with individual opportunities to delve deeply into experiences will emphasize holistic development, encourage the inherent tendency to find wonder and awe in nature, build resiliency, self regulation and confidence.

 As adapted from Forest Preschool UK, benefits of a nature-based preschool include:

Healthier bodies: increased frequency of physical exercise, a challenging environment that helps to develop motor skills, eg. navigating uneven terrain. Some research demonstrates less sick days due to open fresh air classroom.
Healthier minds:
Forest Schools offer an opportunity to be sociable and also to have time alone. Space and resources are naturally available allowing individuals or groups to investigate and problem solve. Forest Schools provide time to just be, where individuals can relax and explore interests. Personal motivation, a willingness to try new tasks and the ability to persist at tasks increases.
Healthier environment: an understanding and appreciation of the natural environment through experience. Knowledge of how systems interlink, and how we affect our surroundings. By spending time in the environment using it to play and learn effects us at a deep level. It is this connection with nature that opens us up to care more for the environment as adults.
Healthier future: Many of the skills that develop as a result of spending time at a Forest School are essential life skills that in time will benefit the economy. Children develop determination to complete tasks; they learn to work together as a team communicating effectively.  (


District of Saanich Saanich Logo

The District of Saanich is committed to creating sustainable communities through connection, participation and stewardship. Initiatives such as the E.C.O program which promote connecting citizens with their natural environment are supported throughout the District’s official documents, including:

stick bridge over ditch children with magnifying glasses

Parks & Recreation Master Plan (2012):

Key Strategic Objectives
“Children & Nature – Develop initiatives in conjunction with stakeholders to use parks and recreation experiences to help children and youth to connect with nature.”

“Environmental Education – Increase environmental education and awareness programs; clarify and strengthen partnerships and relationships with a wide range of community, volunteer, not-for-profit, government and educational organizations”.

Official Community Plan (2008)

Vision 2.0
“Saanich is a sustainable community where a healthy natural environment is recognized as paramount for ensuring social well-being and economic vibrancy for current and future generations”.

Environmental Integrity 4.0

“Work with school districts and post secondary institutions to educate students about the environment and stewardship.”

“Foster and support public awareness, engagement, and participation in community environmental stewardship initiatives.”


We believe in meeting the needs of both children and families by providing healthy opportunities for growth and exploration through recreational experiences that are fun and exciting, yet also safe, supervised, and age-appropriate.

maple leaf taking a closer look at a pine cone

Our Pedagogical Philosophy

This outdoor program will take place primarily at the Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary and will provide a unique early childhood learning experience for your child. The wild, natural environment at Swan Lake will become our classroom, our playground, our science lab, our gym, our library, and our art gallery. Throughout the year we will wonder, question, explore, investigate and experiment through sensorial play and meaningful encounters.

We will follow the interests of the children, value their questions, ideas and individual learning styles and provide the time and the tools to encourage developmentally appropriate in-depth learning.

Being surrounded by nature will create the opportunity to connect with the environment. Through purposeful, direct and extended interactions with their world around them, the children will develop a sense of belonging, responsibility and love of the natural world.

Our goal is to help all children feel successful, confident, and to revel in the learning process and limitless opportunities for knowledge and growth that the outdoor classroom provides. Children, especially the very young, learn best through play and interacting with the world around them. The outdoors represents the perfect venue for learning, and development of a sense of wonder and stewardship. Children will learn and be encouraged to trust their inherent ability to ask questions, solve problems, be creative, and celebrate their imagination.

Natures treasures teamwork

Vision for Learning

Just like the weather on our beautiful Island, our program will frequently change and the children's interests will take us in many unseen, unplanned for yet fruitful and exciting directions. Underlying everything we do will be a very conscious and careful consideration of the safety, well being and interests of each child as our main priority. Examples of other elements that will run consistently through the program include:

Child holding clump of dirt

Every day:
Weather, Surroundings, Ourselves

An awareness of the weather and the influence it has on our program.
The beauty of the surroundings and its potential for play.
The responsibility involved when interacting with the natural environment.

child with magnifying glass

Every Week:
Relationships, Trust, Questions

Building relationships with peers, adults and the environment.
Building trust and confidence in each other and the natural setting, and developing strategies to enable problem solving.
Always asking how? what? where? when? and of course, why?


Group of kids outside with teacher

Every month:
Skills, Information, Communication

Repeating, practicing and mastering skills.
Finding ways to express, describe and record informationand experiences.


child standing in hollowed out tree

Every season:
Change, Reflection, Prediction

Using all the senses to notice the changes that occur during the season.
Reflecting on the things we have learned, seen and experienced, and predicting what might happen in the following season.



girls with their arms around a tree

The year in whole:

Our bodies, strengths, skills, knowledge, confidence, relationships, sense of responsibility, and the love and respectfor the wonders of nature.


Our Educators

Carol Martello (ECE) Carol Martello
Lead Educator - Beaver Lake

As an Early Childhood Educator and Child and Youth Care worker, I have had the pleasure of working and programming with children for over fifteen years.  I have worked in many childcare settings: preschool, daycare, out of school care and summer/spring break camps.  In all those settings, we enjoyed the great outdoors by exploring, experimenting, playing in our local forests, beaches, lakes, parks and trails around Victoria.  I think it's amazing to see the positive effects being outdoors has on all children.  Providing many opportunities, the outdoor classroom encourages children to respect their environment, self-regulate, and take care of each other in a natural setting.

My family and I have the privilege of living five minutes walk away from Elk/Beaver Lake Park with our "backyard" opening up onto the
trail to Beaver Lake.  We (my husband, our dog, two daughters and I) enjoy playing in the trails and taking advantage of the CRD's many
awesome special events.

Vicki Finucane Bell

Victoria Finucane-Bell (ECE)
Lead Educator - Swan Lake

I am an early childhood educator with over 20 years experience working with young children in the UK, Europe, Asia and Canada.
My approach to the care and education of young children has been shaped by my life experiences, varied interests and inspiration
taken from innovative childcare philosophies from around the world and my desire to spend time outdoors.  I have always encouraged
the children in my care to get outside and explore their environment whether it is a city park, a beach or a snow covered mountain. 
My role is to work in partnership with nature to give children the most wonderful early childhood outdoor experience possible.

Sophie Suzuki
Sophie Suzuki ECE
Assistant Educator - Beaver Lake

Sophie has many years of experience leading preschool aged children on adventures of all sorts.  She has worked as an early childhood educator with the District of Saanich for the past 3 years teaching French programs in the Elk/Beaver Lake neighbourhood.  Her 3 year old daughter Neve keeps her getting outside and she can't wait to share her passion for the outdoors with all ECO participants at Elk/Beaver Lake.



Sarah Poirier MSc
Assistant Educator - Beaver Lake Sarah Poirier

I was once quoted on video as saying: "The most amazing thing about me is that my middle name and city of residence match".  After
much deliberation, I still proudly agree!  I first became involved with getting children into nature at an outdoor natural history
interpretive centre in Montreal, where I volunteered as a docent.  The passion followed me (to Norway, Denmark, and to my
forever-home of Victoria).  A few degrees and jobs later, I am focused on delivering informal education to children.  I love
raspberries, owl calls, fluffy animals, old-school Tetris, the smell of dry heat, and gumboots.  You can often find me at rocky beaches
holding various sea creatures in my hands, in mossy forests scouting out mushrooms, and endlessly wearing leggings under dresses
because I cannot resist climbing, jumping, and perching atop things.

Chris Filler, PhD
ECO Coordinator Chris Filler

I have always had a passion for getting people outside.  Growing up in Ontario I spent summers at the lake, and canoeing through
Algonquin Park.  After working as a sea kayak guide for a number of years I returned to school to share the experience I'd had with the
wonders and magic of the natural world.  The focus of my research was on the need to get more kids outside in schools through an
emphasis on teacher education.  My role as a Programmer at the District of Saanich has allowed me to apply my knowledge through
direct community involvement, fostering partnerships and developing initiatives such as the ECO program, which is a blend of my
academic interests with my real life experience and passion for the outdoors.  My two daughters aged 7 and 4 ensure that I continually
get to hone my outdoor skills all year round.

Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary Logo

Naturalist Program Services
Along with ECO educators, the kids will have the benefit of programming delivered by the Naturalists from Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary and CRD Parks.. Naturalist based programs will be delivered in coordination with the ECO curriculum and driven by the interests of the children while in the program.


Swan Lake Walkway Mushrooms Group of kids



Natural environments may play a particularly important role in promoting children’s early learning. Exposure to natural environments strengthens children’s relationship to nature, building the physical, social, emotional, and intellectual connections that are a necessary motivation for environmental stewardship.
Natural environments also provide the perfect setting for holistic learning.

(BC Ministry of Ed. Early Learning Framework)










Last modified: March 26, 2015