The Walking Curriculum gets students outside and connecting with nature. (Amanda Peterson/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The Walking Curriculum gets students outside and connecting with nature. (Amanda Peterson/Special to S.F. Examiner)

‘Walking Curriculum’ crafted by former Vancouver Islander surges in popularity

The outdoor curriculum encourages students to connect with the natural world

More and more teachers have been taking their classes outside during COVID-19, but most of them probably don’t know that an actual curriculum exists for this.

The Walking Curriculum is a teaching resource developed by Saanich-born, Simon Fraser University assistant professor Gillian Judson that focuses on cultivating imagination, observation and connection to the land in students from Kindergarten to high school.

“It’s really tapping into notions of the land and the place as co-teachers that have been at the heart of Indigenous ways of knowing for far longer than Western thought,” Judson said.

READ ALSO: Vancouver Island educators embrace outdoor education and learning outdoors

READ ALSO: Educators told to teach more Indigenous lessons – what does that mean in practice?

Gillian Judson is an assistant professor in educational leadership at Simon Fraser University. (Courtesy of Gillian Judson)

The curriculum is divided into 60 outdoor walking exercises, each one designed to engage students’ emotions and imaginations with particular aspects of the world around them. In one exercise, students are asked to go for a walk around the schoolyard searching for different visual, auditory and textual patterns.

Just because the lessons are outside does not mean they’re recess though.

“It’s not meant to be a break from learning,” Judson emphasized. “It’s meant to be an extension.”

Teachers who have used her curriculum have told Judson their students become more observational, engaged and mindful of the natural world.

“The purpose is to change the disposition of the teacher,” Judson said. She wants them to realize that there is a world of meaningful and beneficial learning outside of the math and science that occurs inside the classroom.

Although Judson said it wasn’t her original intention for creating the curriculum, the lessons are also beneficial for students’ mental health. Research shows being outdoors and walking can lift peoples’ moods and reduce their anxiety, among other things.

Judson published her curriculum in 2018, but since COVID-19 hit its popularity has skyrocketed. When the world was first thrown into lockdown, she made copies of her book available to parents for free for two days and had 881 requests. She said she’s curious to see if teachers stick with it after the pandemic has passed.

“I just don’t believe that we ever need to stop cultivating a sense of wonder for education,” Judson said. “We should always aim as educators to keep the sense of wonder of our students alive, whether they’re 45-year-olds or four-year-olds.”

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