Back to School – Students answer call of the wild

Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary offers a variety of programs for elementary students

Tristian England

The Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary is helping kids go wild about learning.

The sanctuary offers both on-site and in-school programs, with classes ranging from 60 to 90 minutes depending on the grade.

“All of our school programs have set goals, and are linked to the Integrated Resource Package for the appropriate grade,” said Kathleen Burton, executive director at the sanctuary.

In-school programs are designed for students in the Greater Victoria, Saanich and Sooke school districts and surrounding independent schools and held in local classrooms during the school year. The in-school programs are also available at Swan Lake, where a host of on-site programs are also available. The nature sanctuary even offers programs for preschool children.

“The preschool programs are a fun and engaging way for young children to begin forming connections between themselves and the natural world,” said Burton. “Through play and interactive activities, little ones get the chance to get up close and personal with the mysterious and wonderful creatures found in our very own Victoria backyards.”

A small sample of the programs available at Swan Lake include Daring Ducks, for kindergarten and Grade 1, which explores the adaptations that help ducks live on the lake.

Frog Fables and Turtle Tales gives kids from kindergarten to Grade 3 a close look at the reptiles and amphibians that live in the sanctuary’s nature house as well as in the neighbourhoods around us.

Wetland Discovery helps children in Grade 3 to 5 gain an understanding of wetland environments through hands-on examination of the plants, aquatic invertebrates, birds, reptiles and mammals that make Swan Lake their home. While Microscope Discoveries lets students in Grade 5 to 7 prepare specimens from living material and learn how to properly use both dissecting and compound microscopes and record their observations.

Program manager Renée Cenerini has found the students to be very enthusiastic about the subjects being covered.

“We try to make the programs as fun as possible, and the education follows,” she said. “We’re not about having the students just sit at their desks and listen to us drone on. We want them engaged.”

Cenerini said students are able to learn through experiments, games and fun activities like using nets to catch creatures in the lake and dissecting owl pellets.

“Even within an hour we vary how we do things. Because it’s hard for anybody to focus a long time on one style of learning. We try to engage people in different ways.”

Nature sanctuary staff can also bring programs to the classroom, focusing on subjects such as owls, bats, spiders and snakes. They even have a portable pond they can bring to the classroom to introduce students to the creatures of the wetlands.


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