“I have learned that outdoor quests are not about the summit, but rather the journey.”
Recently I had the opportunity to visit two stellar outdoor learning programs. Megan Zeni works with her teaching partner, Sarah Regan, providing outdoor learning for all students attending Homma Elementary School in Richmond, British Columbia. Both teachers are both passionate about their “Outdoor Library” and are skilled teachers. They have garnered the enthusiasm of students and the support of administration and the Parent Advisory Committee. The outdoor learning space has two sheds for materials, picnic tables for group collaboration, a whiteboard and loose part seating for lessons, garden boxes, a mud kitchen, a bug hotel, and are in the process of building a gazebo. Evidence of student inquiries are everywhere you turn. It is a rich and exciting learning environment for student learning. All teachers in the school get preparation time twice a week. That means that all of the students in the school have scheduled outdoor learning sessions which lends itself to collaborative sharing across kindergarten to Grade 7. Curriculum integration can be facilitated, as can physical activity, self-regulation strategies, and a joy of being outdoors. Megan is offering an online session Outdoor Play and Learning in the Rain on Tuesday, April 19th, 2022. Register now to learn how to support learning outdoors in a temperate rainforest.
The other program I visited, iGeneration Education, is a private program for pre-schoolers developed by founder and CEO, Lulu Wang. Sessions for this program are held throughout the city. I caught up with her group and their instructors at Van Dusen Gardens. For those of you that have been to Van Dusen Gardens, and certainly everyone should, the learning opportunities are plentiful and the garden landscaped with ponds, a waterfall, a maze, a rock garden and a variety of garden beds is a peaceful and contemplative space. Trees, flowers, and other plants are diverse and labelled with Latin and common names. Birds flock to the area and the Bird House for little people is a space to engage students in outdoor play and get started on bird watching essentials. Our little group was lucky enough to spot a turtle and that took the learning in a new direction with more inquiry possibilities. There were hints of sun but dark clouds were looming in the sky and the smell of rain was in the air. More questions. More learning opportunities. Ms. Wang hires staff with subject specific knowledge and today they are being trained by a member of a research team member from Capilano College working to integrate Reggio Emilia philosophy into the program. Next class will take the iGen program to another location offering rich learning opportunity. Certainly, there is no shortage of amazing outdoor spaces in the Lower Mainland of Vancouver.
Dr. Hart Banack, an assistant professor at the University of Northern British Columbia, has inspired and supported these educators and many more in developing their outdoor learning programs. His work at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University has trained many pre-service teachers to facilitate meaningful student learning outdoors. His background in education is rooted in active engagement in sport, backcountry wilderness trips, camp programs, instruction and certification of swimming and canoeing levels. However, his educational practice incorporates his belief in the power of outdoor learning in developing not only physical health, but also the sense of awe, wonder and curriculum learning that is a byproduct of experiential learning.
Dr. Banack and I met each other when I was a vice-principal at Tecumseh Elementary School many, many moons ago. At that time, he assigned his U.B.C. education students to work in collaborative groups to survey several Vancouver Elementary Schools to determine what was available in that specific place , both on the school grounds and in the neighbourhood, to facilitate meaningful outdoor learning. Then these students were given scaffolded experiences in how to develop student centered collaborative learning communities with trust building activities and outdoor activities to develop physical skills, health, and content area knowledge, skills and appreciation of that specific place. Students took this information into their practicum experiences and teachers continued the work when they moved on.
At Tecumseh, I worked with Community School Team members to develop an Outdoor Einstein Program that we ran at Tecumseh Elementary School each term. The CST Team also implemented the program at other interested schools. Instructors were equipped with backpacks filled measuring tools, magnifying glasses, binoculars, waterproof notebooks, ropes and tarps. Students headed out on sensory walks to learn to pay attention, sock walks to collect seeds, adopted a tree or plant on the playground to document changes, tied knots, built shelters, navigated with a compass, and made connections with First Nations teachings and legends. They observed with and without tools, measured, predicted, hypothesized, asked questions, and designed inquiry studies to find answers.
As Dr. Banack has aptly noted, “… outdoor quests are not about the summit, but rather the journey.” In every outdoor quest in education, the common factor in the equation is the person passionate about taking kids on an outdoor journey. I wonder where this comes from. Did it come from experiences that were present in childhood? In school? At home? Or did it come from a place where the desired experiences were absent? These questions will frame my most recent inquiry. I’m hoping educators doing interesting outdoor things with students and implementing outdoor learning practices will participate. The goal is create our own “Human Library” of Outdoor Educators to celebrate and share our outdoor learning inspiration and practices. Thanks to social media for the “Human Library” share and inspiration!
Please let me know if you’ re being interested in being interviewed about your outdoor learning program and why it looks the way it does. What motivated you to facilitate an outdoor learning? What is most important about your program? Interviews will be published on
Wild About Vancouver.com
YouTube – Carrie Froese
@CarrieFroese @WildAbout Van (Instagram and Twitter)
and hopefully in a book!
Interviews will take place in school gardens, parks, playgrounds, and at Second Beach in Stanley Park during the Wild About Vancouver Tidal WAV event in Stanley Park on Friday, June 3rd, 2022. You pick the place. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to participate.