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Farm School


What is Southlands Farm Outdoor School?

Southlands Farm Outdoor School is an independent program operating out of Southlands Heritage Farm at 6767 Balaclava St in Vancouver’s Kerrisdale neighbourhood. In addition to regular school-work, our students interact with farm animals, learn about planting crops, go on regular field trips, have weekly horseback riding lessons, and learn about a variety of topics that interest them.

Our mission is to engage children in a self-directed learning program that will encourage the development of independent, well-rounded, passionate, engaged, curious, self-motivated, responsible adults.

We are a place for child-focused, self-directed learning. Our children are motivated through place-based play in an outdoor setting with plenty of opportunities to try new topics and find their own ways to approach challenges. This is facilitated by staff who are focused on inspiring curiosity and cultivating an inclusive community.

We use some of the tools provided by Agile Learning Centres.

Southlands Heritage Farm is a 2.5-Acre property with goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, honey bees, and many horses & ponies. We also operate a weekly farmers market where we sell our own fruits and vegetables. During after-school hours, we offer on-site horseback riding lessons geared to beginners. On weekends we host pony rides and birthday parties, and are open to the public to visit by donation. In the summer and during spring break we offer day camps, and in October we have a Pumpkin Patch.

Is this a full-time program?

School is 4 days per week, Monday through Thursday, from 9am to 3pm. We follow the same break schedule as Vancouver public schools. If you need childcare on Fridays, we do have a Friday educational offering at the farm (Kids Club); it is taught by some of the same educators as the school, but it is not part of the regular school program.

Do you offer before- or after-school care?

We have a drop-in after school program that runs until 5pm at a cost of $10 per day. Monthly or annual rates are also available. We do not have before-school care, but you can drop off your child as early as 8:30am.

Can my child attend part-time?

If your child does not wish to attend all 4 days per week, or wishes to take days off school, we have no problem with that. If you will be away for an extended period of time or missing a lot of school, there is the option to video-conference with your child’s instructor. We are a small school and very flexible and eager to accommodate. If you are looking for a supplementary program, rather than a full-time school, you might consider our Kids Club program.

What is the cost?

The cost is $11,200 +GST per year, payable as $1,120 + GST per month from September through June. We will offer a 10% discount for subsequent children from the same family. There is no discount for attending fewer than 4 days per week or for missed school.

Can I leave half way through the year?

We are a full-year program, and in joining you are committing to stay with us for the entire school year. But we won't ask you to sign a contract -- we only want kids in our program if it's a good fit for everyone!

Is homework assigned to the students?

No homework will be assigned, but children may take projects home if they wish. We do provide support and options for those who wish to have extra work at home.

What are your policies on technology use?

If there is a way to do it without the use of screens, we would prefer not to use them. We do have tablets and computers available, though, for supervised use by the students where it is required for a particular project. Students are not allowed to have their own phones on them during school hours.

What ages do you accept?

Our program is for grades K to 7 -- children who are aged 5 to 12 as of December 31st. We do not offer a preschool program at this time. We will likely offer grades 8+ in future.

What is the student/teacher ratio?

We have at least one educator per 7 children, plus one extra full-time teacher and a full-time office admin to fill in as required.

What sex and age range is currently in the school?

We are almost 50/50 split male/female. There are slightly more younger students than older students, but we do have students of all ages K through Grade 7.

Do you offer French?

While we are not a French program, some of our educators are French-bilingual, and some of our students do communicate in French.

Does this meet Ministry requirements for grades/curriculum?

Yes, we operate in compliance with all regular school curriculum requirements for grade/age level. Our students learn about a broad range of topics in very non-traditional ways, and we have much less classroom time than a traditional school -- perhaps only a few hours a week. Students may sometimes work above or below their grade level on different subjects, but our intention is that students will still meet Ministry requirements for their normal grade level. We do not assign homework, but if it is important to you that your child remain at grade level then some children may need to do some practice work -- that we can provide -- at home. There are, however, no formal tests, exams or mandatory homework. Report Cards will be submitted to the Ministry, and we anticipate no problems with switching back to a mainstream school in future, if you wanted.

Are there extra fees on top of the monthly tuition?

Most things are included. There are occasional activities or projects that the children want to undertake that will involve an extra cost, such as field-trip expenses or expensive projects, but these will be made clear to parents in advance of any such expense and participation is optional.

What supplies do I need to provide for my child?

You will need to send your child each day with weather-appropriate clothing and we recommend a change of clothes be left at the farm. Certain projects may require special equipment (ie. If your child wants to participate in equestrian activities, they will need a riding or bike helmet and hard-soled boots with a heel).

What activities take place, and what about safety?

It is of the highest priority for us to provide a safe and fun learning environment, but we are also an outdoor program and children have more freedom than normal schools. Children of all ages often climb trees, play in bushes, chop wood, work with sharp knives, light fires, make bows and arrows, and regularly interact with all sorts of animals that may kick, bite, step on them, or sting. We are very experienced at encouraging safety, all of our staff has first aid training, and injuries that require a hospital visit are exceedingly rare. We do, however, go through a lot of bandaids. Parents will be asked to sign a waiver prior to beginning school.

What animal interactions will the students have? Is there horse riding?

Horses, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, and pond-life are a part of the program, and children will be given the opportunity to interact with animals daily. Each child generally has the opportunity to ride a horse every single week, and optionally support their progress through Equine Canada "Rider Levels". Due to scheduling and field trip conflicts we cannot guarantee that every child will get to ride every single week, but we do have a full-time riding instructor on staff at the school, as well as an animal-husbandry class weekly.

Are students required to wear masks?

We operate almost entirely outdoors, and masks are optional except for individual projects or trips that may specifically require them. We have one indoor space at the farm which is used for quiet projects in small groups, and it has a Heat Recovery Ventilator installed that allows a full air-exchange every 15 minutes. During times where mask use is mandated indoors, we simply do not use any indoor spaces. You can read more about our policies here.

Is everything outside?

While we do have indoor spaces, most activities take place outside: rain, wind, sun, or snow. To get out of the elements, we have several sheltered and heated areas where the students gather to do work. Your child will sometimes come home wet and muddy, but we do have a shower available for the kids to use if necessary.

Do you offer Special Education?

We are a very small program and have limited resources available to deal with Special Education requirements. We do accept students with special needs into the school, and can provide limited extra support, but not all special requirements are compatible with our program. If you do have extra funding available through an IEP, we will apply it towards extra support and staffing to assist with your child's needs. Please contact us for more info about your specific situation.

What level of parent participation is expected?

We are not a parent-participation program, but will certainly take advantage of any skills or talents you would like to share with us.

Is the farm open to the public during school hours?

The public is only allowed to visit us after 3:30pm and on weekends. While the farm is not specifically closed to other activities and events during school hours, most of our other events and visitors happen on weekends and do not conflict with the school program at all. In addition, we attempt to schedule occasional weekday events on days where the children are on a field trip.

What about transportation for field trips?

The Farm is ideally located close to many city parks, playgrounds, playing fields, the Fraser River trails, Pacific Spirit Park, Southlands Riding Club, and McCleery Golf Course. However, we do enjoy many regular trips and have our own 48-seat school bus that we use often.

What is your relationship to Island Discovery?

We operate in partnership with the Island Discovery Learning Community (IDLC), a Distributed Learning branch of School District 47. Children that stay with us through Grade 12 (future option) would receive a regular Dogwood Diploma, the same as any other school in the province. IDLC has about 650 students across the province who participate in outdoor education programs or homeschool programs. They provide us with ministry-certified teachers to allow us to meet curriculum requirements, and children from our program are eligible to transfer out at any time to any other school at grade-level. . Technically speaking, our students are enrolled in a "homeschool" program, where our own educators take on the role of the "parents". In 2021 the Ministry announced changes to this program, but we aren't yet sure how it will affect our relationship with them. We are committed to operating our program long-term, and will adjust as necessary to meet their requirements.

How do I register?

As we only have a few spots available, please email us for more information. We will invite you for a visit to see the school in operation, and answer any questions you have.

For more information, please email admin@southlandsfarm.ca