Liz McCaw, Departure Bay Elementary Eco-School kindergarten teacher, has received a 2019 Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence. (KARL YU/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo kindergarten teacher receives Prime Minister’s award

Departure Bay Eco-School’s Liz McCaw use of experiential learning methods earns her accolade

A European approach to teaching has earned a Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools kindergarten teacher top marks from the Government of Canada.

Departure Bay Elementary Eco-School’s Liz McCaw received a Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence certificate of achievement on the strength of her outdoor kindergarten program, which incorporates the Reggio Emilia teaching method, named after an Italian city. McCaw is honoured and said the style is really an infant/toddler/preschool/elementary school program, where children are viewed as capable, curious and competent.

“There’s a lot of art of course, because it’s Italy,” said McCaw. “There’s a lot of loose parts, a lot of nature, a lot of music. Each school has a specialist teacher that takes small groups and works with them on inquiry … they do a lot of project work and it comes from the children. The things that really stand out about the program is the way their day flows, the respect and autonomy the children are given, the project work that really is connected to the community and to family.”

McCaw said a typical day begins outdoors, with assistance from parent supervisors or community volunteers, after which students transition back into the classroom. She said Reggio Emilia complements the school’s ecological-based philosophy nicely, as well as the new B.C. curriculum, with flexible learning environments.

RELATED: Nanaimo school given green light to become eco academy

“It really fits and one of the reasons why I committed to Reggio Emilia pedagogy was because of my outdoor program, because [it] nurtures all those same skills in the children,” said McCaw. “Being collaborative, valuing community, making decisions, taking risks, being a leader, taking their time and being patient. Revisiting the same ideas over and over and of course, using nature’s loose parts.

“So when a child has that type of experience in the morning, when they come into the classroom in the afternoon, the Reggio Emilia pedagogy aligns with the First Nations’ principles of learning, but also aligns with the type of learning experiences the children are having in the morning, so it’s a smooth transition for them.”

Annette Noble, school principal, nominated McCaw after previously working with her at Cinnabar Valley Elementary and had watched her transform her methods over the last five years.

“This fall, I also had an opportunity to see more of her in the outdoor element and when I saw the Prime Minister’s Awards come across my desk, I thought, ‘This is pretty unique,’ and she does so much work with other districts that are going to nature-based learning and outdoor learning, that she is sharing her practice with others. She’s written a … book and she shared what she has learned with our staff here for the last two years,” said Noble.

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