Laurie's article below is published in the Ontario Society for Environmental Education's Interactions, the Ontario E-Journal of Environmental Education
Preparing Children, Parents and Educators for the Future with Nature Connection Programs in Ontario Schools
Ontario Public schools are now beginning to adopt gradual release Nature Connection Programs to embrace and encourage each student’s natural cycle of learning. The Nature Connection Experiential Learning approach, founded by Jon Young, essentially fosters the resilience of high cognitive functioning in the outdoor classroom. As an alternative to absorbing content delivered at the front of a classroom, nature connection mentorship engages experiential learning as a process of learning through hands-on activities and reflection. “Jon Young, co-founder of the 8 Shields Institute, has established an international network of consultants and trainers working to cultivate effective nature connection mentoring programs in communities and organizations. As the originator of the 8 Shields model, a best-practices process for nature connection mentoring, Jon has implemented vital advancements in the regeneration of nature-based cultural knowledge for the benefit of current and future generations.” (http://8shields.org/mentoring-consulting/village-builders/)
Nature Connection programs differ from outdoor education curriculum as teachers work towards attribute based nature rich experiences over subject based information rich curriculum. How? Teachers role model experiential learning strategies supported by the art of questioning where they emphasize questions over answers. This approach emphasizes nature rich content and is less focused on information rich subject matter. Meeting the needs and mentoring a diversity of attributes, as opposed to knowledge sets, will prime each mind for intentional learning supported by an inquisitive focus and deepened sense of curiosity.
Teachers role model as mentors through listening and observing the child’s needs and by asking questions coming from a place of authenticity. Engaging the student’s mind with questions encourages them to bring their interests back to the indoor classroom for follow-up and further research. When teachers present themselves as fellow learners through authentic questioning and curiosity, they become an integral part of stimulating the students’ fervour for learning. Teachers also practice authenticity when revealing that they do not have all the answers.
Toronto Star article written by Brandie Weikle; ‘Preparing kids for the future means learning outside the classroom’ ( By Brandie Weikle- Special to the Star/), interviews Guelph Outdoor School Founder- Christopher Green- who brings children outdoors to learn in the invisible classroom. The article also introduces a centrally assigned principal (Felson) who oversees nature immersion experiential learning for the Toronto District School Board.
Guelph Outdoor School Founder, Christopher Green states; “If a child is spending one day a week doing deep nature immersion mentorship and being mentored into connecting with the natural world, then all sorts of magic is going to happen with their other endeavours.”
‘Felson states that these kinds of (nature connection experiential learning) programs are helping to build better workers. “We really feel technological education fits well with our emphasis on those skills employers are looking for,” said Felsen. “Whether it be with traditional technologies, such as automotive or construction, or with new technologies like computer engineering, we think that what’s common is the emphasis on things like problem solving, which is one of the global competencies we’re trying to build. In one recent example, elementary students explored the question of why bees are dying, said Felsen. “The students learned about what plants are from this area that would attract bees. That’s an important part of experiential learning that takes them out of the regular classroom.”
On Tuesday June 4th (9 am until 3 pm), Drummond Central School’s parents, youth, teachers, administrators and community partners unite to plant trees and perennial polyculture gardens in the outdoor classroom on the elementary school playground. Algonquin College (Perth Campus) and the Upper Canada District School Board along with our funding partners (TD Canada Trust, Hay Design, and the Perth Rotary Club) gather on Drummond Central School’s playground to assist with the first phase of a three-phase outdoor classroom project. This collaborative community ‘dig’ gathers volunteers from Algonquin College’s Early Childhood Education program, The Table’s Community Garden & Good Food in Schools team, and Leeds &Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit. Experienced gardeners / permaculturalists of Lanark County who believe in the importance of outdoor learning will lead the day’s activities in growing medicinal/edible perennial polycultures and annual gardens in the outdoor classroom. All ages at Drummond Central School will be planting for the future of DCS’s outdoor education program.
Throughout the planting day and parent and child workshop; Laurie Lynn Clark, Outdoor Educator collaborates and coordinates teachers, parents, children and community partners through her outdoor classroom curriculum based design oriented around the Cardinal Directions on the playground. The Outdoor Classroom planting day involves planting polycultures of perennials in cardinal direction locations on the playground with a focus of the regions common medicinal/edible flora. As students, and teachers navigate themselves around the cardinal directions on the playground, multiple curriculum strands may be accessed by students and teachers daily through outdoor nature immersion classes or by simply experiencing the gardens during recess play. Through inquiry and experiential pedagogical strategies, through naturalizing the school playground as an outdoor classroom, and through the inclusion of parents learning alongside students, teachers and administrators – the entire school community benefits and becomes one step closer to being a nature connected community.