The Carihi Fly Fishing Club is touted as an example of incorporating the outdoors into the education curriculum in SD72. Photo submitted.

Vancouver Island educators embrace outdoor education and learning outdoors

SD72 schools taking students outside to learn what is normally taught in an indoor classroom

The Campbell River School District has embraced the movement to incorporate nature into education.

“We have many schools doing a wide array of activities outdoors,” said SD72 superintendent Jeremy Morrow at the Board of School Trustees’ Nov. 10 meeting.

Morrow presented a report to the board entitled Outdoor Learning Initiatives Across School District 72. The board had requested a report on the current outdoor learning initiatives across the district so that the board could consider the next steps in supporting and broadening outdoor learning, the report says.

Schools and educators have embraced the idea of learning outside for some time now, the report says, but this year, with the added incentive of COVID-19, there is greater interest, consideration and creativity in finding ways to move beyond the traditional classroom to connect lessons and engage students with the outdoors.

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The report was prepared by emailing school principals and asking them to compile a list of any outdoor education and outdoor learning initiatives and activities that are happening at their school. The report is a sampling of the types of outdoor learning activities occurring within SD72 schools.

The report touches on the difference between outdoor education and learning outdoors. Often the terms are used interchangeably but there is a difference.

The Institute for Outdoor Learning defines outdoor learning as “a broad term that includes discovery, experimentation, learning about and connecting to the natural world and engaging in environmental and adventure activities.”

The report says that “outdoor education or outdoor learning is often defined as experiential learning in, for, or about the outdoors. Most often, it is used to refer to a range of organized activities that emphasize teamwork, resilience, environmental education and/or responsible outdoor recreation.”

On the other hand, the report says, “learning outdoors offers possibilities for cross-curricular learning and is often focused on taking students outside to learn what is normally taught in an indoor classroom.”

The report says that SD72 educators are taking both approaches in their lesson planning and educational program offerings.

Some examples of those offerings are included in the report.

School gardens, for example, have blossomed at SD72 schools. School gardens function as an outdoor classroom to provide hands-on education across the curriculum and inspire environmental stewardship, the report says. They also often have multiple learning intentions such as teaching students where their food comes from, generating produce for us in their school’s cooking programs and inspiring social lessons like generosity as schools give produce to members of the community. Cedar Elementary, Cortes Island School, Ocean Grove Elementary, Quadra Elementary, Carihi Secondary, Timberline Secondary and Robron Centre all have school gardens.

Several elementary schools like Cedar, Georgia Park and Willow Point have created outdoor learning kits to help students study elements of the outdoors. The kit is often in a backpack for students to carry the supplies and contains such items as magnifiers, notebooks, clipboards, field guides, plant ID cards, picture books, bug boxes and knee mats. They can be used to explore forested areas on school grounds or on field trips, the report says.

Georgia Park Elementary’s “forest school” has each division spend 50 minutes per week learning outdoors mainly in a forest area beside the school and in the school garden. The initiative allows students to spend time in nature. Each student has been provided with an individual kit with a waterproof journal, clipboard and magnifying glass.

Many schools find ways to take the curriculum outside and make connections. For example, at Ecole Willow Point School, all classes go outside on a regular basis accessing the “little forest” across the street, Willow Creek or to the beach. For science class, students can explore, observe and find characteristics of local plants and animals. For math, students find nature elements of different shapes and patterns. Art class can create projects inspired by nature and literacy lessons use the outdoors to learn new vocabulary, inspire journal writing and readings.

Another aspect of this is the incorporation of Indigenous ways of knowing and doing and how outside learning provides many natural ways to draw connections between Indigenous knowledge and activities and lessons.

“Georgia Parks’ Forest School students are provided Coast Salish names as part of their learning activities, such as a beach scavenger hunt to build language knowledge and word recognition,” the report says. “Southgate Middle School staff often use the Beach Search and Find and ethnobotany resources created by Indigenous Education to help guide students toward stewardship and recognize that we are guests upon the unceded territory.”

At the secondary level, Timberline has offered the Adventures Program as a BAA offering. The outdoor education component of the program seeks to introduce students to a variety of outdoor activities and give students the basis for a lifetime of outdoor adventure, the report says. Students study units on water travel, back-country travel, rock climbing, winter back-country travel, winter camping and leadership and First Nations natural patterns.

Carihi offers trout and salmon fly fishing courses to take full advantage of the local rivers and lakes and to encourage students to explore and fish the outdoors in a respectful and safe way, as well as promote stewardship of B.C.’s rivers.

Another aspect of this is the partnerships SD72 has created with several outside organizations, such as Habitat Conservation trust Foundation and Greenways Land Trust, to access grant funds and outside presenters on environmental topics to help connect curriculum content to the environment we live in.

When the board requested the report it was so that trustees could consider next steps in supporting and broadening outdoor learning. Besides information about their initiatives, schools also forwarded possible ideas and suggestions for the board to consider. Some of those suggestions were:

  • Establishment of a district outdoor learning project committee
  • Professional development opportunities with a focus on outdoor learning and the use of outdoor learning consultants.
  • Outdoor garden equipment
  • Support for each school in the district to have their own copies of the Beach Search and Find and ethnobotany resources from Indigenous Education.
  • Support for school projects such as a wetland re-saturation at Quadra Elementary. The school is hoping to restore an area of their field that at one time was a wetland as it is often swampy and not useable as a school field.
  • Support for the creation of permanent outdoor classrooms or covered structures.

For more examples and how the outdoors is incorporate in SD72 curriculum, read the report:

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