The West Valley School District offers a unique opportunity for its elementary students on late start days – a chance to spend the morning exploring outside and meeting the animals at the West Valley Outdoor Learning Center.
This is the third year of the program, said director Jami Ostby-Marsh. “I’d say last year it became more of a habit for parents,” she said. “Last year was slowly building. This year is our busiest year.”
The district usually has late start days on two Wednesdays a month, though there are some months with only one late start day. The next late start day is Oct. 23. Other camp days include Nov. 6, Dec. 4 and 18, Jan. 15 and 29, Feb. 5 and 26, March 11 and 25, April 22 and May 13.
“We wanted to offer a place to come to make things easier for families,” Ostby-Marsh said.
West Valley students in grades K-6 can be dropped off at the center, 8706 E. Upriver Drive, between 8:30 and 9 a.m. on late start days. Students are transported by bus to Seth Woodard Elementary and the Millwood Kindergarten Center at 10:15 a.m. Students who attend Pasadena Park Elementary are escorted across the parking lot to school.
Bus transportation isn’t available for Ness Elementary students but parents can pick up their children and take them to school, Ostby-Marsh said.
There are outdoor activities planned each day unless there is extreme weather, Ostby-Marsh said. The Outdoor Learning Center includes a small natural area with trees, bushes, a small stream and multiple trails.
“They spend the first half-hour outside exploring,” she said.
Kids also have the chance to interact with the animals who live at the center, including a great horned owl who lives in an outdoor enclosure. The center is home to a variety of birds of prey as well as tortoises, snakes and lizards.
“Some kids really love the birds, and others are just obsessed with the tortoises,” she said.
The students make crafts at each late start camp. They are collected and put into nature portfolios for them to take home at the end of the year. Each camp has a theme and the crafts are centered on that theme.
Many students who come are regulars, Ostby-Marsh said, but others only come occasionally. One boy has been coming for three years and is very excited to attend “animal camp,” she said.
Ostby-Marsh said all ages come to the camp but she particularly loves having kindergartners there. “Kindergartners are the best,” she said. “They are so excited about everything you show them.”
The cost for the entire school year of late start camps was $180 but that amount will be prorated if parents sign their children up now, Ostby-Marsh said. Parents can also pay $15 per camp, and there is a discount for siblings. “We do get a lot of siblings, which is fun for us,” she said.
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In addition to providing an option for working parents, the late start camps also offer children the opportunity for unstructured play and outdoor exploration, Ostby-Marsh said.
“We’re trying to teach about our local habitats and nature areas,” she said. “Our hope is the kids will go home and tell their families.”
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