Recently I had a chance to sit down with a very passionate Outdoor Education teacher at an EPSB Junior High. We had a great chat about our board’s 2010-2013 district priorities, how a robust outdoor education strategy could support these objectives, especially Priority #1, increasing our high school completion rate, and the formative role that outdoor education played in our own orienting stories...
Through Elementary school I was always more of a book worm than a jock, and was more often drawn to our computers (the brand new PowerMac in the basement replacing our old IIVX for those mac users out there) than the great oudoors.
Come Junior High, I had the opportunity to go with my class to Rocky Mountain YMCA, for a week-long school trip dedicated to outdoor pursuits. That week in the woods was an incredibly formative experience for me, gave me a can-do attitude about the outdoors, and in turn life, and further ignited a love of canoeing, camping, the outdoors, nature, and wildlife. Supported by a wonderful teacher, the late Mr. Richard Barbeau, I had the chance to share my particular outdoor transformation with the town paper, and present to my own school board about the value of the program. I was changed, and Mountain Equipment Co-op Catalogues soon became well-thumbed treasures as I worked with my family to plot out my next adventure. If it wasn’t for that outdoor education experience, I know my life would have taken a much different trajectory.
The outdoors are a place of wonder, reflection, and inquiry. They foster creativity, health, and a realization of our shared humanity in a fragile and intertwined biosphere. How can we teach students about the dangers of pollution when they lack understanding of the ecosystems at risk? How can we teach conservation when a generation grows up unfamiliar with why we must conserve?
In our increasingly litigious and fear-governed society, some districts have had to back away from outdoor education due to increased red-tape and costs that make certain programs prohibitive. I don’t want to see this be the case for Edmonton Public Schools. Reading this book made me so thankful for the preservation of our River Valley and the fact that in 20 minutes, any of us can be hidden in a secluded tree canopy, and apart from the occasional plane, we could forget that we are in the city at all!
I had the chance to read an amazing book this summer, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder” by Richard Louv. While this book is written predominantly in an American context, many of the lessons and ideas transcend the 49th parallel and are just as important to consider for Canadian educators and families today.
The book does a great job of giving an overview into why outdoor education is important, co-ciricular opportunities for integrating nature into all subjects, and a comprehensive list of 100 actions we can all take to bring the nature back into our own lives.
“When we take nature away from people, we take away their ability to be full human beings.”
Here is a project a few Educational Psychology students did on “Last Child in the woods”
If you have a chance, pick up the book. I’d love to hear your thoughts.