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Forest School

(Ages 4–12)

Where children and educators immerse themselves in nature, sparking curiosity, creativity, and a deep connection to the environment.

Group of cute kids sitting together in forest and looking at camera. Cute children playing in woods

The Foundation of Forest School

YMCA Forest School was created with the desire to connect children with one another and the land. We developed Forest School with ongoing input from the Indigenous Advisory Circle to Cedar Glen staff to give equal voice to Indigenous and Western worldviews, aiming to make Forest School a meaningful and culturally-relevant experience for everyone involved.

Programming allows children the time, space, and support to explore the wonders of the natural world. The “classroom” is on YMCA Cedar Glen Outdoor Centre’s 263-acre property — the perfect setting for exploration, inquiry, and imaginative play.

Forest School, unlike more traditional outdoor education experiences, focuses on learning in the outdoors rather than learning about the outdoors. Children are free to choose and direct their play under the supervision of qualified and caring educators.

Sign up today so your child can learn and grow in the forest

The Principles of Forest School

The YMCA takes reasonable steps to manage and balance the risk associated with adventurous play for our Forest School participants while allowing children to freely play.

  • Learning takes place outdoors
  • Programming helps children develop a relationship with the Land and an understanding of themselves as part of the natural world
  • Educators understand that children are competent, curious, and capable learners
  • Activities are led by educators through play-based, emergent, and inquiry-driven teaching and learning methods
  • Forest School educators value child-like play — self-directed, freely chosen, and intrinsically motivated — and allow children the time to dive deeply into their play
  • Forest School educators view risky play as an integral part of healthy childhood development; knowledgeable, qualified educators support children to co-manage risk
  • Open-ended, creative play and learning relies on loose, natural materials

To learn more, check out About Forest and Nature School

Three kids aged 10 and 6 are playing with a huge frozen puddle in winter forest. They are breaking ice on the puddle with sticks
Cute little girl jumping in muddy puddle wearing yellow rubber overalls. Happy childhood. Sunny autumn forest

A Typical Day at Forest School

Each day starts and ends together in a circle – welcoming one another, intentionally connecting with and thanking the Land, and debriefing our learnings. Beyond the regular structure of opening and closing, the children determine how the rest of the day goes as their play evolves.

Each session provides natural opportunities for literacy and mathematics through storytelling, song, rhyme, reading, drama, counting, sorting, classifying, and predicting.

Some of the activities we may engage in include:

  • Shelter– and fire-building (using matches, found materials, ropes, tarps, and more)
  • “Sit Spots” (quiet time in nature)
  • Nature crafts and painting
  • Tool use (hammers, saws, whittling knives)
  • Identifying animal tracks; studying wildlife
  • Knot and rope skills
  • Leaf– and flower-pressing
  • Bug and frog catching
  • Sensory activities like water play and sand play
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Team, group, and other games
  • Playing in hammocks and building swings
  • Running, climbing, jumping, sliding, splashing, rolling, and more!

Sign up today and join our next Forest School session.

Registration, Fees, and Refund Policy

Browse all Forest School program offerings and fees prior to booking on the Y Guide. Registration is available in advance, on a first come, first served basis through the YMCA of Greater Toronto’s online registration portal, My Y, or by calling Membership Services at 1 800 223 8024.

Registration Link
Fall 2024
September 20 – December 13
(13 weeks)
9 am – 12 pm

Our refund policy can be found within our Parent Handbook or during registration.

Forest School Location

YMCA Cedar Glen is on 263 acres of the Oak Ridges Moraine, a 45-minute drive north of Toronto. Since 2001, our site and staff have been connecting people of all ages to nature, offering year-round experiences for groups, families, and individuals.

At Cedar Glen, Forest School is tucked into the woods just behind Glenview Lodge, located at the north-eastern part of the property when you first arrive. Our preference is to be outdoors, but we do have access to both indoor washrooms and an indoor classroom space if required. Students will have access to over 5 km of trails, ponds and streams that flow through the property, and countless species of trees to discover.

Learn more about YMCA Cedar Glen.

Kids hiking in winter forest. Happy kids hikers are crouching at the bank of small stream and are playing with sticksCold winter day

Our Educators

  • Passionate outdoor professionals who love spending time exploring and playing on our amazing property with children
  • Trained in Standard First Aid and carry a first aid kit at all times
  • Trained under our Certified Forest School Practitioner. 
  • Support children in learning and playing while keeping risks to an acceptable level
  • Operate in a 1:8 ratio; one educator to 8 students

Preparing for Forest School

Forest school happens outdoors in all types of weather, rain or shine. It is important for your child to be prepared each day to remain comfortable and safe. Please review the following seasonal lists to ensure your child has everything they need to support a successful Forest School experience.

Spring & Fall
  • Long-sleeved shirt (avoid cotton)
  • Pants (avoid cotton)
  • Socks that are long enough to pull over pants cuffs, for bug protection (avoid cotton)
  • Running or hiking shoes; no sandals or open-toed shoes
  • Sun hat
  • Rain gear; waterproof boots, pants, and jacket
  • Bug jacket (optional)

Children will also require:

  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellant
  • 1 small backpack containing their nut-free lunch, snacks, and refillable water bottle
  • 1 bag containing 1 (half day) or 2 (full day) full change(s) of clothes, including underwear and socks, plus extra outer layers if possible
  • Base layers; synthetic or wool long underwear and top (no cotton)
  • Insulating layers of warm pants and sweaters; wool or fleece recommended (no cotton)
  • Warm socks; wool recommended
  • Snow pants and jacket or snowsuit
  • 2+ pairs of mittens. Avoid gloves; mittens are warmer
  • Warm hat, scarf or neck gaiter
  • Boots; waterproof, insulated
  • Indoor shoes or slippers to keep feet warm and dry when indoors

Children will also require:

  • 1 small backpack containing their nut-free lunch, snacks, and refillable water bottle
  • 1 bag containing 1 (half day) or 2 (full day) full change(s) of clothes, including underwear and socks, plus extra outer layers if possible

Forest School Frequently Asked Questions

What is Forest School?

The Child and Nature Alliance of Canada (CNAC) defines Forest School as “an education ethos and practice that centres the Land and the child-at-play. Children and educators build a relationship with the Land through regular and repeated access to the same outdoor space over an extended period of time. Educators support learning through a pedagogical framework that is rooted in place and play, directed and inspired by the child (emergent curriculum), and driven by a process of inquiry.”

Is Forest School aligned to the Ontario Curriculum?

No. Although our program offers boundless opportunities for learning, it is not planned to align with or meet the Ontario Ministry of Education Curriculum or serve as a replacement for school. Each session provides natural opportunities for literacy and mathematics through storytelling, song, rhyme, reading, drama, counting, sorting, classifying, and predicting.

How do I register?

Registration will be online. The program is available for registration during the fall, winter and spring sessions.

Do you offer Financial Assistance?

Yes. As a charity that serves all segments of our community, the YMCA of Greater Toronto provides financial assistance in times of need. This is short-term support made possible due to the generosity of our donors, members, volunteers, staff, corporate, and community partners. For more information on how to apply, please contact us here.

How accessible are your outdoor centres?

Our outdoor centres are not a fully accessible sites. We have several accommodations in place to make our program more accessible and are continually working to improve in this area. If you have questions about how you can participate, please contact us at

What is risky play?

Risky play involves children experimenting and pushing themselves to figure out what will happen, without knowing the exact outcome. At the YMCA, our staff take reasonable steps to manage and balance risks, while at the same time allowing children to play freely. While minor injuries such as bumps, scrapes, and bruises are not uncommon, serious injuries are rare.

How do I get to YMCA Cedar Glen?

Our outdoor centre is accessible by car. At this time, Forest School participants will be required to be dropped off and picked up from the site.

What is adventurous play?

Adventurous play, unstructured play that involves some risk, is essential to every child's well-being. It helps children learn, develop and grow their understanding of their own abilities.

What are the benefits of adventurous play?
  • Emotional regulation
  • Adaptability
  • Self-confidence
  • Physical Literacy Risk Management Skills
  • Reduced risk of injury

Over the last 60 years our culture has witnessed a dramatic decline in children’s opportunities to freely play. Over the same 60 years, we have witnessed a continuous, dramatic increase in all sorts of childhood mental disorders, especially emotional disorders.

What are the safety risks?

As with almost any activity, indoors or outdoors, it is impossible to guarantee accidents will not occur. It is important that parents/caregivers are able to accept this condition as a part of their child’s participation in Forest School at YMCA Cedar Glen. Our educators are trained and experienced leaders, and their role is to support children in learning and playing while keeping risks to an acceptable level.

How much time do you spend outside?

Depending on the weather conditions and needs of the students, we expect to spend most of our days outside. Our educators are trained to be flexible and responsive to situations, understanding that it can be difficult at times for the students.

Our educators regularly consult the weather forecast, and weather-related safety is considered in all decision-making such as how far to venture from shelter, how long to be outside, what type of activities to undertake, etc.

In the case of forecasted thunder, lightning, or high winds, educators and staff will ensure participants are close to shelter for quick access, should it be necessary. In the event of high wind or tornado warnings, staff will proceed to the nearest building to seek immediate shelter.

On extreme heat days (as indicated by York Region Public Health), staff will monitor participants and adjust programming as necessary. The focus on heat days will be low-energy activities that can occur in shaded areas. Children will be reminded to take frequent breaks, stay hydrated, and frequently reapply sunscreen.

On extreme cold days (as indicated by York Region Public Health), staff will monitor the children and adjust programming as necessary. Staff will assist children in keeping their skin covered and staying warm and comfortable. Participants will have access to an indoor, heated area for frequent warm-up breaks as needed.

Have more questions about Forest School? Download our YMCA Forest School Handbook for more information.

Land Acknowledgement & Commitment to Truth Telling & Reconciliation

We at Cedar Glen would like to take a moment to acknowledge the land we play on. We also encourage you to take a moment and reflect on your personal journey of truth and reconciliation.

YMCA Cedar Glen is located on ancestral lands home to the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island. This area homed the Haudenosaunee (Ho-den-oh-show-nee), the Ojibway/Chippewas (Oh-jib-way/ Chip-eh-wah), Petun (Pee-tun), Anishinabek (Ah-nish-in-nah-bek), and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. These lands are the ancestral territories of many nations, including Tionontati (Petun), Mississaugas, the Ojibwe/Chippewa, the Huron-Wendat, and the Haudenosaunee. Originally formed by the vast Indigenous communities that shared this Territory long before contact, The Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Treaty, was an agreement between the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee Confederacies to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes (“the Dish”).

The Cedar Glen community continues to recognize and work with Indigenous community partners and alongside the Indigenous Advisory Circle to Cedar Glen. We strive to understand past injustices and continue to move towards truth and reconciliation.

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