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Algonquin College Early Childhood Education Program: Fostering Creativity in the Outdoor Classroom

Fostering Creativity in the Outdoor Classroom with Early Childhood Educators- Algonquin College, Perth Campus

As an outdoor Educator, I am honoured to be invited into the Algonquin College ECE program (Perth Campus) as a guest instructor/lecturer with the focus on Restorative Communication in the Outdoor Classroom. I introduced the importance of following circle guidelines when bringing children and adults together into the sharing circle. The practice of passing the talking piece ensures inclusivity and offers all in the circle an opportunity to express needs , concerns, learnings and/or teachings relative to the subject at hand.

I wrote an article sharing this teaching experience here: https://www.insideottawavalley.com/opinion-story/9181898-restorative-practice-in-schools-includes-nature-connection/








As a guest speaker called in to discuss Outdoor Education and Restorative Communication Facilitation with youth with Algonquin College Early Childhood Educators in their Fostering Creativity class: Engaging Algonquin college ECE students in the outdoor classroom was a revitalizing experience: We sat in the Knowledge Sharing Circle with students and professor with a shared focus on the intention to facilitate learning through restorative communication in an inclusive, caring and non-judgemental outdoor classroom environment. As a circle facilitator, my intention was to hold space to represent the circle as a pedagogical approach in their outdoor classroom. We passed the talking piece and came to terms with each individual's agreement to follow the circle guidelines. The united circle agreement confirmed everyone's safety to speak freely and confidentially in the circle which is an imperative part of the restorative communication process. Healing happens when one feels safe enough to vulnerably express themselves with open honest communication and is heard by empathetic non-judgemental recipients.

The opening circle introduced the following guidelines to confirm that all of the circle participants were in agreement:

i. Only speak if you are holding the talking piece. ii. Quietly listen if you do not have the talking piece. iii. Suspend judgement: Respect differences without judging. iv. What goes on in the circle, stays in the circle. v. Speak from the heart. vi. Listen with the Heart. vii: Eye contact/ exercise empathy.

The Circle discussion introduced the importance of accessing Robert Lovelace's (https://www.queensu.ca/devs/robert-bob-lovelace-recipient-2016-educational-leadership-award) teachings and lectures on Indigenous and Aboriginal Histories. Emphasis was placed on the need to honour the Aneshnaabe people's heritage through educating the truth about Canadian Indigenous history in all sectors of community. Students in the circle with indigenous roots gave voice to their identity with confidence and appreciation for the opportunity to honour their culture with others participating in the circle respectfully.

After receiving the thumbs-up confirmation from all in agreement of following the circle guidelines -- the talking piece was passed and all voices had the opportunity to be heard. ECE educators validated how the outdoor classroom enriches and enlivens one's love for experiential learning while connecting with our mother planet on a visceral level. We discussed how the ECE's are now being placed in leading roles to assist in crossing the curriculum strands from the indoor to the outdoor classroom. All students were keen on the idea of helping children thrive when learning in nature's classroom.

We all ventured into the outdoor classroom to run freely in a Cardinal Direction Activity on the college green space where i participated with students having fun and exerting energy during the first snow fall of the season. We then gathered in a knowledge sharing circle to discuss each student's playful learning experience out on the Algonquin College field of play. The importance of storytelling and playing music with children in the outdoors was also discussed. Conversations tapped into endless pedagogical opportunities to incorporate the knowledge sharing circle as a teaching/learning strategy for experiential curriculum to emerge organically from each individual student's inquisitive nature, knowledge base and personal experience.

It was an honour to share a very heart-warming circle discussion. Students were deeply touched by the closing appreciation sharing circle where vulnerable tears of gratitude for one another were shed by many of the classmates. A couple of students approached me after the circle to share their gratitude for the opportunity to bring their classmates closer together on an empathetic level. In reciprocity, I expressed how honoured I am to be trusted by people who exercise courage in a circle to openly and vulnerably share without fear.

Fostering Creativity in the Outdoor Classroom '101' went better than i could have ever imagined. Why? Because of the warm and compassionate reception of the Knowledge Sharing Circle's participants. All of our ancestors sat in a circle at one point in time and when we sit together in a safe and confidential circle space, then the strengthening of trust and empathy for one another and for the planet fosters creative collaboration as stewards for the earth and as mentors for our children.

I am grateful for this experience. I love this work.

Restorative Practices 

Nature as a Mentor

“In this process of unlearning, in the process of feeling and hearing the plants again,
one comes to realize many things.”

-Stephen Harrod Buhner