Who wouldn’t want Stanley Park as their playground? Fresh air, nature, play, fun, friends, and learning all at the same time. Little Paws Outdoor Classroom offers just that and makes little children’s dreams come true.
Little Paws Outdoor Classroom offers inquiry and play-based education in the outdoors for preschoolers. Children participate in four hours of experiential learning sessions while exploring and connecting with the natural environment and community of Stanley Park, Vancouver. All activities are designed to adequately nurture the emotional and intellectual growth of our kids. Through stimulating situations and hands-on learning opportunities, young children are free to develop into bright young minds.
We had the chance to talk to the two founders Maria and Marco to learn more about their business Little Paws Outdoor Classroom.
How did you come up with the idea to start an outdoor classroom?
We were motivated for a challenge we could take on together. I (Maria) have always been passionate about environmental education, and during my academic and professional journey, I discovered the effects that nature disconcertion has on the current environmental and social problems the world is facing. Connecting children with nature from a very young age and educating them about the importance of our ecosystems creates a relationship between nature and individuals where nature is not anymore alienated or minimized. My previous experiences as an educator in outdoor programs in Vancouver allows me to contribute with knowledge, experience, and the passion to run an outdoor preschool. Marco’s interest was more on the entrepreneurial side. Together we could find a purpose to take on that project to achieve environmental awareness by educating our little ones. At the same time, we can offer children a safe and caring space to learn and explore the outdoors.
Finally, childcare services are well needed in Vancouver, and we can provide an alternative to the overbooked daycares.
What can SCCC members expect when they send their kid to Little Paws Outdoor Classroom?
The most important thing for us is to offer an outdoor experience where the children are feeling loved, safe, and supported. Our program is centered on land-based, play-based, non-formal and experiential education. If you visit us one day, you will see children running and playing around in the forest or on the beach, taking risks by climbing a tree or jumping off a log, acting, dancing, doing some crafts, coloring rocks or shells, and most importantly, experiencing the beautiful nature we have in Stanley Park with all their senses.
Your child will definitively get muddy, develop gross and fine motor skills, cognitive, language, and social skills, and learn to assess risks.
As a big plus, children form friendships that bring families together. We have a nice community.
Little Paws Outdoor Classroom’s mission:
We believe that children thrive in an environment that values their own uniqueness, while providing support and opportunities to grow emotionally, socially, and creatively. We want more children playing and exploring outdoors while connecting with nature.
In 2021 you participated in PINTS N’ PITCHES. How did this help your business and what did you take away from it?
That’s right. We participated in a couple events before which inspired us and fed our entrepreneurial spirit. For us, it was a great opportunity to gather all our thoughts and ideas and present them to an audience that is not necessarily familiar with that kind of preschool program. The diversity of expertise that comes together for PINTS N’ PITCHES lead to so many excellent ideas. We really appreciated this opportunity and all the positive feedback motivated us even more to pursue our business idea.
* PINTS N’ PITCHES is a global movement that cultivates an entrepreneurial and innovative mindset. It all starts with an idea and a drink.
How do you differentiate yourself from other outdoor pre-schools?
That is a very good question. There are many great outdoor programs out there and all of them offer something unique. I have had the privilege to work in some of them and I have learned so much from educators, children, and families.
We wanted to create a program that prioritizes the well-being and healthy development of children in the outdoors. It is incredible to experience the growth that my students have in our program. Little Paws stands out for the loving and caring environment we offer creating a strong bond between children and educators. Our ratio is 1:5 (1 educator every 5 children).
Furthermore, communication with parents is extremely important for us since we want to support every child and meet his needs. Parents receive weekly emails with activities planned for the upcoming week, and daily pictures of their children while being in our program. We also take time outside of the program to talk with parents about their children’s needs and development. We get a lot of positive feedback for the way we communicate.
Environmental education is also a big plus. My education as an environmental engineer and as an environmental educator allows me to create a curriculum that helps the child to understand our nature and the importance of taking care of it.
The incorporation of field trips in our program differentiates us as well from other outdoor programs. We take children to community spaces that allows the child to have a deeper experience of the learning we have in our program. We have visited the Aquarium, Science World, and we will be going to the Maritim Museum in June. Children love the field trips.
What are the biggest challenges for your business?
I guess we are mostly challenged by the usual administrative activities, such as acquiring new families or recruiting staff. However, here you can be creative, as there are many great solutions out there that make our life easier in terms of administration.
One specific challenge we are facing is stepping into a licensed program because there is no license in place that suits an outdoor school. Programs like ours are new and therefore left out by childcare regulations set by Vancouver Coastal Health. This is not a problem if you are fully operating outdoors but as soon as you are looking into renting an indoor place you must be licensed.
Another challenge we experience everyday is the unpredictable behavior of nature such as weather and wildlife. We prepare ourselves to overcome these situations and this has also a positive impact on children and educators who learn to co-exist with other animals and have fun outside in all kinds of weather.
What have you planned for the future of Little Paws Outdoor Classroom?
We are constantly exploring different options to grow by offering more programs or operating in other locations. Our focus however is to increase the quality of the programs by creating a curriculum that not just involves environmental education, but indigenous studies and literacy. Everything that can be taught inside can also be taught outside. In addition, we want to reach more families by understanding more about other marketing tools that enable us to do so.
It won’t get boring anytime soon, we have many ideas on how and where to go with this preschool.
Marco, you have your origins in Switzerland and Maria, you in Ecuador, what did you learn from moving to Canada?
We are in a constant learning path, and we must admit that being away from our families has allowed to grow as a couple and support each other’s dreams. I think the biggest learning is to be kind and compassionate with everyone. It doesn’t matter what country you come from. Kindness opens many doors and allows you to learn from others.
Ecuadorian, Swiss, and Canadian work cultures have their differences and to find a combination with the good qualities of each has been a big learning as well. It has been a beautiful journey.
Last but not least, what is always in your suitcase when you come back from Switzerland?
We are obsessed with Ovomaltine chocolate. Without a couple of kilos of Ovomaltine products Maria would let me sleep in front of the door 😊.
Further, I always bring “Chipeno” sauce, a product of a good friends’ start-up, and the Bernese hype-liquor “Ingwerer”.
Thank you, Maria and Marco, for taking the time to give us some interesting insights into your journey and business.
Learn more about Little Paws Outdoor Classroom
Little Paws Outdoor Classroom