What do you do when a viral pandemic has turned the whole world upside-down, when millions of people are out of work, when hordes of children have been out of school for months, and when even now a substantial portion of them are still unable to do more than “remote learning”?
Mary Cole, a Wallingford native who taught gym for 20 years, had an idea. She launched her own after-school and home-schooling program, called Fit By Nature, focused on connecting children with nature. Rather than replacing the topics kids would be learning in school, or remotely at home, she concentrates on getting children off their technology and into nature, promoting physical well being and overcoming what she calls “nature deficit disorder.”
There were never any rules for what we suddenly encountered early this year, so Cole has written her own. She runs two after-school classes at parks around Wallingford and will be partnering with the Meriden YMCA to run a program at Mountain Mist Day Camp. She is also in talks with the Parks and Recreation Department to hold after-school sessions in Cheshire.
Using hands-on techniques, she teaches a variety of topics, including tree identification, tracking and navigation. In Cole's classes, the children wear masks while around each other.
Such “enrichment” classes may be just what the doctor ordered for this discombobulated school year.
Cole believes that kids spend too much time indoors anyway, and especially so this year, increasing anxiety, depression and ADD. Getting outdoors, she says, improves their focus.
“They're calmer, they're able to concentrate,” she said.
Cole may not have solved the problem of kids being isolated at home, staring at a screen for hours on end because the normal school experience has been interrupted for so many, but she has certainly found a way to enrich their experience during this troubled year.