The Toronto Nature School is nurturing the next generation of outdoor advocates
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We sat down with Moms at Work community member, Julia Donnelly O’Neill, to learn more about her work as the founder and an educator at the Toronto Nature School.
Tell us about your business.
At Toronto Nature School (TNS) we bring kids and education together outdoors. We are located in the Beaches neighbourhood in Toronto's East End, within walking distance of the beach, Lake Ontario as well as a beautiful ravine.
We offer a variety of programs for kids ages 0-10. Our offerings include Nature preschool programs, summer and PA day camps, weekend programs as well as full-day immersive nature school and Kindergarten for children to attend 1-2 days a week. We believe that the benefits of being outdoors are huge and that giving children an opportunity to connect with nature from a young age will not only have incredible immediate benefits, increased happiness, lower stress levels and increased physical fitness (… I could go on!) but it will also have the long term benefit of creating a generation of children who are advocates for the Earth.
What do you love most about your work?
I love the kids and the community. I say it all the time – this is a happy place to be! The community that comes to the school for both the private school program and the recreation program are really welcoming and kind people. The educators that work at Toronto Nature School are a collection of people who all bring their individual skills and expertise. I also love watching the kids grow. There are many kids who have been attending TNS since we started and seeing them mature is simply magic!
What has been your path to entrepreneurship?
I had always dreamed about creating a school where kids felt comfortable being themselves. Once I began to learn and teach outdoors, I began to see the benefits to the kids who I was teaching and immediately knew that creating TNS was the direction that I wanted to move in. I love that being an entrepreneur has allowed me to learn so many new skills while also allowing an element of creativity and excitement.
What’s it like being a mother and a business owner?
It’s a lot of fun and it’s busy. Like many parents, I juggle looking after my kids and working. I think being a business owner allows you to create your own schedule which does provide flexibility and at the same time being a business owner means you need to be available should last-minute things pop up at any time.
What impact do you hope your work will have?
I hope that TNS will continue to help more kids and families connect with nature. Long term, I hope that the students we work with carry with them a forever connection with outdoor spaces. That as adults they know if the world feels busy or they need some space that they can find a forest, a beach and outdoor space and take some time to slow down and connect with the land. I hope that we have created advocates for outdoor spaces and for the need for these spaces to be accessible to all people.
What advice would you share with other entrepreneurs?
Go for it! If there is something that you have been thinking about - my advice would be to get started even in a small way. To find support and use the resources available at Moms at Work. To find people that are doing what you would like to be doing and connect with them, ask them questions.
You’ve been a long-time member and supporter of Moms at Work. Why?
I feel incredibly lucky to have found Moms at Work. I love that I am a part of a community of like-minded people. Through the events and community, I have attended many talks on a variety of topics including entrepreneurship, politician talks, wages, advocacy, marketing, imposter syndrome and on and on. I love having a space where I can ask questions and participate in discussions. Allison Venditti has been an unbelievable help to me. She was instrumental in helping me set up the structure of our Summer Camp program which was a huge success and has also answered countless questions for me as my business grows.
I am so grateful to be a part of the Moms at Work community.
To learn more about The Toronto Nature School:
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