About Us

Our Vision

We aspire to promote and facilitate the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development of children through meaningful interactions in the natural environment. Through exploration, inquiry, reflection and community building we strive to create a positive learning environment that promotes achievement and development of lifelong skills.

Our Goals

  • Reconnect children with nature through play, inquiry, and exploration

  • Encourage healthy active living

  • Promote environmental awareness and appreciation

  • Develop strong collaboration, communication, and problem-solving skills

  • Offer low student to adult ratios allowing for mentorship and student-led learning

Our Team

BRAD GRAVES (Director), best known as "Mosquito", is an Ontario certified teacher who has a passion for outdoor & physical education, conservation, & environmental sustainability. His experience in educating youth extends over various environments, including teaching in schools, coaching, instructing swimming and ski lessons, and managing Dogwood Acres Camp. Brad's love of sports, sense of adventure, and exploring the outdoors has provided the perfect combination of interests to develop a nature-based mentorship program.

MICHELLE GRAVES (Director), best known as "Doe", is an Ontario certified teacher who is passionate about working with youth to increase their awareness of the environment by simply spending time in the outdoors and reconnecting with nature. Through her experiences in the classroom, various children’s camp settings, and outdoor education programs, she has recognized the value of outdoor time for children to explore, play, and learn through meaningful, inquiry-based, and child-led interactions and experiences. Michelle is an advocate for ongoing learning, positive character development, and youth leadership.

AIDAN DOAK, best known as "Pine", is an avid outdoorsman and a passionate Outdoor Educator. While completing his Environmental Management degree at the University of Guelph he began mountain biking, hunting, fishing, wildlife photography, and anything else that got him outside interacting with the nature. Aidan found himself contemplating what it meant to be connected with the natural world and spent a lot of time writing about his experiences. He strives to help children create a meaningful connection with the natural world and hopes to exemplify how kindness, curiosity and playfulness are deeply rooted in learning in the forest.

ANDREA TWIDDY, best known as "Pollywog", has been working with children for many years in various capacities such as caregiver, skating instructor, IBI therapist, and camp counsellor. Andrea also has 3 children of her own who keep her on the move from swimming pools to hockey rinks most days of the week. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time outdoors by the water or in the forest, reading, running, and playing board games. Many have asked why Andrea chose the name "Pollywog" and what it is (another name for tadpole). It stuck with Andrea through childhood and now as a facilitator here at Dogwood because she loved (and still does love) catching toads, frogs and snails! Her mother still tells stories of snails in Andrea's pockets going through the wash!


AUDRIANNA LINDSAY, best known as "Dragonfly", is an Ontario certified teacher and is passionate about teaching and learning alongside all children that she works with. She believes that inquiry, play-based, and hands-on learning are what helps to foster meaningful learning experiences for children. Audrianna enjoys going outside, finding ways to take care of the environment, and exploring nature especially by spending time hiking, gardening, or cottaging. She believes that being in the natural environment is important to childhood development and wellbeing. Audrianna is excited to be apart of the Dogwood Forest team where she can combine both her passion of educating youth and spending time outdoors.

JANELLE HUDGIN, best known as "Clover", grew up tracking animals, camping, roaming the beaches of Lake Huron and crafting. Her love for the outdoors flourished throughout the years as she has grown a deep understanding of the therapeutic benefits of nature engagement for all ages. After obtaining a degree in Recreation and Leisure Studies with therapeutic specialization from Brock University, she has spent over a decade facilitating programming to improve quality of life through play and exploration of one’s passions. Janelle’s favourite activities include foraging for plants, geeking out with field guides, gardening and the arts. You will often find her tending to Huggydubby Homestead, her forested acreage where she and her husband guide their children along a journey of learning self-sustainability, environmental stewardship, and adventure. Janelle is excited to provide opportunities for children to explore and engage in the forest school environment.

LORI MEZZAVILLA, best known as "Otter", is an Ontario certified teacher who has a passion and enthusiasm for the natural world and is constantly looking to explore and learn more about the environment. From a young age she has been inspired by passionate teachers who exemplified what it means to bring learning to life and she aspires to do the same. Lori is eager to share her excitement and passion for the natural world by educating youth in a fun and hands-on way.

MILA HAYNOS-OWEN, best known as "Scooter", has a Masters Degree in Communication and has been involved in teaching for over 25 years. Experiential learning as well as living books are her passion followed by environmental studies and the arts. After guiding her own three children through 14 years of homeschooling, Mila is excited to continue the journey of nurturing young explorers on a path of learning, discovery and adventure in the beautiful forest school environment. When not in the forest, Mila tends to her family eco-lavender farm (Lavender-Blu), and is a member of the Scugog Arts supporting, growing and promoting a variety of local art events.

RACHEL SCOTT, best known as "Sunflower", is an Ontario certified teacher with an undergraduate degree in Sociology. Rachel has a strong passion for working with children in non-traditional educational settings. Her teaching and educational experiences include ABA therapy, classroom teaching, childcare, outdoor education, Ontario Early Years Programs, camp, coaching, and tutoring. Rachel’s favourite part about working with children is the knowledge we gain about them while observing them through inquiry and play-based learning in a natural environment. Rachel lives an active lifestyle and spends as much time outdoors as she can. If you can’t find her at the hockey arena or ball diamond, you will find her connecting with family and friends around the camp fire.

RHIANNON LACE, best known as "Owl", is an ecosystem management technician graduate from Sir Sandford Fleming College School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences. She has always had a strong and growing passion for conservation and wildlife across Ontario and worldwide. Rhiannon’s goal is to educate youth and offer unique opportunities for hands on learning in an outdoor environment. She is grateful to be a part of each child's learning experience and she values what she can learn from them as well. She believes that the more that people understand, learn and connect with nature, the more they will care for it.

ROBIN SCHISLER, best known as "Robin", has a Bachelor of Education as well as a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She has been fortunate enough to split her time between being a passionate educator and a professional actor. Teaching in both the public and private sector, Robin feels strongly that regular connection with nature is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children. Her background in the arts has been a huge asset in fostering empathy, collaboration, and social skills in the classroom and in the woods.

History

Crossley Aquatics Ltd: Dogwood Acres operated as a family run, Summer Day Camp for over 15 years, providing exceptional swimming lessons, leadership and environmental awareness training. It began as a small venture offering swimming lessons to children during the summer who soon expressed interest in wanting to stay and play in the 57 acres of private park which has mixed forests, creeks, and ponds. The camp program transformed over the years, going from 20 campers each week up to 70 throughout July & August.

In September 2017, Brad & Michelle Graves, better known as "Mosquito & Doe", took a leap outside of the box to combine their love of educating and mentorship with their summer camp experiences, researched the forest school movement, and started Crossley Aquatics: Dogwood Acres Forest School. What began as a single class, made up of 6 children attending 1 day per week, has evolved over the past 5 years and now in our 6th year, operating as Dogwood Forest, we offer weekly and specialty drop-in programs for children & youth aged 5 - 14 years, family/parent & tot programs, PA Day Programs, adult programs, summer programs, group programs & many other exciting new community projects in the works. Our amazing team of facilitators has also grown and we’re looking forward to the unique experiences and skills that each will bring to our programs & community.

We are grateful to our Dogwood community and all those who have shared our programs, encouraging words, and supported this dream of providing nature-based mentorship learning opportunities to children, families, schools and our community.

Thanks for being here and we look forward to connecting!