If you live or visit Vancouver, sighting a Pacific Blue Heron is as likely as seeing a seagull or a Canada Goose. Usually, it is one large statuesque and graceful bird alone on the golf course or at the beach during low tide. New discovery today. The Great Blue Heron Rookery is part of my Stanley Park bike route. Who knew? They have returned to their address at 2099 Beach Avenue, the trees outside The Parks Board building, and apparently have been doing so for 20 years!
Looking up during a sunny bike ride was not what led to this discovery. I have nearly made it through all 111 Places in Vancouver That You Must Not Miss, the book by Dave Doroghy and Graeme Menzies. This is number 98 and the perfect time to discover it. The Vancouver Parks Board has installed a webcam ( Vancouver.ca/herons ) for viewing their arrival in March; courtship in April; egg laying and incubation in May; chick rearing in June; and fledging in July.
Without the leaves on the trees, you can see SO many nests, seemingly empty. Then an eagle comes cruising by. Instantly the sky is filled with masses of our very closest renditions to prehistoric pterodactyls in flight. Apparently, we are home to the largest urban blue heron colonies in North America. One third of the great blue heron population in the world live around the Salish Sea aka the part of the Pacific Ocean by British Columbia and Washington.
After the big commotion, the herons return to the nests, but this time assume a far more visible stance. Some on branches or on the edges of nests. Some appear to be visiting between the trees. They have diversions from the tennis courts, the lawn bowling club, and the people staring up at them. For me, it is the excitement of a new discovery. How could I have missed this? I’m looking forward to checking out the webcam at regular intervals and letting all my Wild About Vancouver outdoor enthusiasts about it.
Another discovery is that Stanley Park Ecology Society has started an Adopt a Nest Program to sustain the Pacific Great Blue Heron colony. It is $54.00 to adopt one nest for a year. There are over 100 nests in 25 trees in Stanley Park. I’m excited about doing this with the students at Livingstone Elementary School to support learning in all curriculum areas and build interest in our Twitcher group. The kids like the name. Although our sightings are not usually rare, they are equally as exciting when someone can identify the bird 🙂
The first tweet @GurdeepPandher that I saw was from his little cabin in the Yukon. His bhangra dancing with abandon filled my heart with joy. For those of you that know me well, this will not surprise you. Dancing with abandon always fills my heart with joy. And so, I retweeted. And I have continued to retweet as he has danced his way around Canada through the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s danced in Nova Scotia, in Ottawa, with the Canadian Armed Forces, and to bagpipe music. The list goes on. And every time he dances, he makes me smile.
I am on the Board of Directors for Wild About Vancouver. Gurdeep has inspired the dream of people dancing their favourite dances outdoors throughout the Lower Mainland of Vancouver and tweeting it out @WildAboutVan. It would be brilliant. I am also back at school as principal of David Livingstone Elementary School. He has inspired the notion of teaching kids dances that they can do outside at recess and lunch. Socially distanced joy. Not a bad plan!
I went to Gurdeep’s website and was able to purchase and download music for bhangra dancing and sign up for an online dance class. AND I was able to do my first class this morning and talk to Gurdeep. He is just as lovely in person (which means on ZOOM in the COVID-19 world) as he is in his tweets. His direction:
Stand up straight and engage your core.
Express joy in your face, and happiness in your heart and soul, with a smile.
This is certainly one pathway to mental health and physical fitness. I certainly need more practice to coordinate moving my arms and legs in sync with the hops but then … joy on the playground and around the Lower Mainland. Thanks, Gurdeep!
Check out his site ( gurdeep.ca) and join the celebration and opportunity to, as Gurdeep puts it – “Have some fun in the chaos.”
My Apple watch buzzed on my wrist and I looked down. Premier John Horgan announces kids back in school on June 1st. Before I have a chance to react, my Apple watch buzzes again. The breathe icon pops up on my watch reminding me. In through your nose. Out through your mouth. If this pandemic has taught me nothing else, it has taught me to be ready to pivot. Our only constant in this time, is that things will change. The trick is finding a way to navigate the change in the midst of big emotion all around.
I jumped out of bed on Saturday morning on high alert. Things to be done. What deadlines had I missed? What was absolutely essential to accomplish before 8 am? The forecast was for rain but no rain yet. Every Vancouverite can appreciate the pressure to optimize this opportunity. It was now late enough to rally my husband and go for a walk.
Walking the seawall before the crowds descend never gets old. The constancy of the waves and the mountains. Breathing in the sea air. Stopping to notice. The cherry blossoms are done. The dogwoods are in full glory. The realization that poppies come in many colours. More people staying home, have resulted in a new boldness from our birds. The Canadian geese with their many babies don’t even bother to get out of the way. Their honk is louder and closer. The blue herons pause longer before even looking in your direction. The crows fly closer to your head. Only the seagulls are put out with the reduced human consumption of fish and chips which directly impacts their diet.
On the route back home on the rough stone of the seawall, between Second Beach and English Bay, a beautiful array of carved serpentine stones. The Metis artist, Jock Langlois, has taken shelter under a beach bush, because he too could smell the approaching rain. Jock left his job in the corporate world many years ago to become a street artist. He embraced the power of desire, faith and action to reveal the beautiful messages hidden in stone. The image of the bear jumped out to me first. For my husband it was the eagle. Then the most obvious image on this overcast day, the raindrop. The eagle messenger. The bear of courage. The raindrop of new growth. All rolled up in one inspirational piece of art.
Inspiration is just like learning. You need to be ready to identify it. Ready to receive it. Ready to learn from it. Jock Langlois was able to hand me a message of courage and the possibility of new growth. Thanks to the teaching of my mother, emergency cash was tucked ready between my phone and it’s case.
There is so much change and fear wrapped around the COVID-19 times. How do we step forward with courage and look for the learning that will help us to grow as individuals and communities? The pause to reflect on what will feed inspiration and innovation. The willingness to embrace possibilities is what will feed the community. We will change as a result of this global pandemic. Walking in fear tends to result in stagnancy or ugliness. Being courageous and stepping forward together as problem solvers promises new learning and the possibility of better pathways in our future.
Thanks, Jock. I’m glad our pathways crossed yesterday. I am happy to have your art as a reminder of the incredible beauty in our midst and the enduring message of courage for new growth. Check out his story and his art.
What makes a person notice? What makes one person look out the window in the morning and see rain and another person look out the window and notice the exceptionally red breast of the robin trying to pull the long, stretchy worm out of the ground? Or the difference in the appearance of the cherry blossoms in spring as you travel east through Vancouver? Or the difference between happy chirping and the sound of going to war to protect young from predators? Why does the curiosity of the very young diminish as some people grow older but emerge as artistic creation or scientific discovery or unbridled joy in others?
Noticing comes easily to preschoolers. A short walk can take hours because it is punctuated with countless numbers of studies of rocks, branches, bugs, and wonderings. I have recently framed a study of birds to hone the observational skills of Kindergarten to Grade 7 students while they are doing “SchoolAtHome” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teaching kids to be observers in a face-to-face context is nothing less than joyful. Discovery is exciting, whether you are making the discovery or watching the “eureka” moment in child. Of course I speak with the perspective of a long time educator. In the early years of school, all we need to do is take kids outside and give them time. To look. To listen. To smell. To touch. To note changes over time. Adding a few open-ended questions sends them deeper into their observational studies. More focused attention from the obvious to minute detail evolves when you teach older children to use a ruler, a magnifying glass, a set of binoculars, a camera or an iPad with picture and video capacity and provide a format for observations. Encouragement to make anecdotal notes with drawings of observations unleashes creativity.
When I was little girl, I lived close to Jericho Beach by a big vacant lot. I called it “The Baking Lot”. It made sense because all of the neighbourhood kids went to make mud pies and squish in the mud. We rescued our rubber boots when they were sucked off our feet. We caught tadpoles, frogs, butterflies and bugs. We braved stings to capture bees and wasps in glass bottles so we could study them close up. We ventured further afield to the beach and created habitats for our collected crabs to live in. We built castles that were gobbled by insatiable waves. Our curiosity was never satisfied and our attention to detail was ever present.
When all of the older kids went off to school, Gordon, John and I were left behind to continue our explorations under the supervision of their mother. This opened up another world of discovery to me. The world of “boy” toys. Growing up in the 60’s with an older sister limited my world to dolls, and fancy dresses. Now I was able to explore the world of Hot Wheels and pedal cars. Outdoor observations were assisted with Tonka Trucks as we excavated the land for new bug habitats in the backyard. We got very dirty and it was all very acceptable and even encouraged.
John and I both emerged into adulthood, still curious and still friends with the unconditional acceptance of tight knit families. In fact for many years, my kids thought we were related. John’s curiosity took him into a fascination with antiquity, a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Classical Studies and a Diploma in Fine Arts. My curiosity pushed me to try new things like snow skiing, water skiing, snowboarding, canoeing, hiking, biking, travel, meeting new people and developing interesting relationships. I emerged with a Bachelor of Education Degree, a Master of Arts Degree in Education with continued diplomas and credentials in language, Special Education, leadership and management.
Both John and I continue to be friends. Our differences are more readily apparent than our similarities. He fits the typical mold of an introvert. I fit the typical mold of an extrovert. Both of us are voracious readers and lovers of language. We are definitely mourning the loss of Bard on the Beach this season due to the COVID-19 restriction on large gatherings. John’s thinking is clarified through listening, reading, art and the lens of a camera. His understanding of the world is most often communicated in cartoons, paintings and photographs. My thoughts are formed through listening, reading, writing, talking (to myself, to a series of family dogs, to kids, to adults) and through writing. My thinking is expressed through language. Yet our biggest similarity is that both of us continue to notice. There is no doubt that asking questions has led both of us down paths to find the answers that matter to us. It has been important to our learning but it has also been important to how we experience joy in our lives. Noticing details changes how we experience the world.
Our paths have recently converged once again. His fancy new camera has focused his attention on capturing the solar system, birds, flowers, the ocean – everything nature. His mode of communicating his learning – posting the images on Facebook with the name of each bird and observations. I have channeled his learning into the challenge of teaching observational skills to students online, entice kids to go outside daily for physically distanced activity, and help them to experience joy and gratitude during this tumultuous time. He has indulged me with setting up a Twitter account @JStCPatrick to tweet out his posts on birds so I can retweet them @LivingstoneVSB and Wild About Vancouver @WildAboutVan. I hope the sounds, scenes and details about our local birds will pique the interest of my students at Livingstone Elementary. And of course, I am thinking this may be a future book that John and I co-author.
We all have opportunities to take a closer look. When we pause to do it, often that is when the discoveries and experiences that mattered most in our lives happen. It requires a concerted effort to invest the time and create the space to notice the details. It guarantees learning, joy in the experience and a sense of gratitude for all that is amazing. For John and I, it has made all the difference.
A gorgeous day, a set of Outdoor Learning backpacks, some new resources purchased at the Reifel Bird Sanctuary, and a couple of primary classes ready to embrace learning outdoors, all conspired to create the conditions for miracles in the Livingstone Garden this week. We grouped in the library for Twitching 101:
Everything in the backpack goes back in the backpack (binoculars, compass, magnifying glass, waterproof notebook, pencil, ruler)
If you can’t see through the binoculars, ask a friend for help
Take good care of the binoculars and put them back in their special case
In Vancouver, the mountains are north – Use this information to check your compass skills
The new resources from the Reifel Bird Sanctuary are kept in Backpack #1. Feel free to use them and then return them to the bench in the garden.
The birds are most likely to come closer if you are very quiet.
There are several sources of food for birds in the garden. See how many you can find.
We converged on the garden. Nothing close to quiet was even remotely part of our Twitching endeavours. Yet, our recent Green Thumb Theatre production had brought a new level of cool to “twitching” – the British term for people out in search of rare birds. In our case, we’re happy with any birds. Frustrations over binoculars that didn’t work were overcome. Sea gulls were spotted in front of the mountain view. All the budding twitchers looked north, some checking the direction with their compasses. None of the usual “murder of crows” appeared. The chickadees were scared away from the bird feeders with the commotion. Then it happened.
“The white head one! It’s an eagle. It’s an eagle! Look!”
“A bald eagle. I’ve seen one before.”
“I’ve never see one but I know they are alive”.
“Look the seagulls are chasing him.”
“He’s circling. It means something!”
And then the second bald eagle appeared. More euphoria from the group. One little girl with saucer eyes, runs up to me with the laminated Pocket Naturalist Guide shrieking, “But where? Where? Where is it?”
I paused to help her find the birds of prey section. My scanning finger hit the Bald Eagle. She looked down. Looked up. Looked down and looked up again. And what did those eagles do? They defied logic and flew closer to the noisy kids in the garden. Perhaps they knew, they were the superstars of our bird watching venture.
“It’s a miracle,” gasped my wide eyed twitcher, still clutching the British Columbia Birds – A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species (2017 Waterford Press Inc.).
These are the pinnacle moments every educator strives to experience with their students. At these times, the joy of the learner is paralleled by that of the educator. It is miraculous and defines why teachers love to teach.
Orange shirt day is officially marked on September 30each year, as that was the time of year Indigenous children were historically taken from their homes to attend residential schools in Canada. Orange shirt day is not a day about guilt for actions of other Canadians in days gone by. It is about being part of a story. Our story as Canadians. A story in which 150,000 Indigenous children were taken out of their homes and communities and put in residential schools because the differences in culture and language were not understood or appreciated or tolerated. A story where 10,000 years of experience living off the land was not understood as a learning opportunity. A story that started in 1831 with the first residential school and continues today. Because although the last residential school was finally closed in 1996, the trauma of generations of residential schools has left a trail of shame, sadness, and racism.
One of the best things for us as a country has been the work of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada. From 2007 – 2015, as the commission traveled throughout Canada, the stories of residential schools became common knowledge. In many cases for the first time, Indigenous people were able to tell their stories and have people believe they were telling the truth. We learned of the harsh, punitive conditions in which children were not allowed to speak their own language or practice their cultural traditions. Six thousand children never returned home due to inadequate food, health and sanitary conditions. Stories of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse are all too common. The trauma has crept through generations. And yet the beacon of hope is that the truth has been told and heard. And now the work of reconciliation has a chance of success. We have the opportunity to forge a vision of a future in which Canadians value differences as opportunities for learning, ask questions, problem solve and recognize that every person matters.
Indigenous elders teach respect of the sacredness and importance of clean water. Autumn Peltier from the Anishinabek First Nation on Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario learned this as a young child. These teachings have allowed this 15 year old girl to clearly articulate the need for clean water to the United Nations and at hundreds of events around the world. She speaks and people listen. Her question, “All across these lands, we know somewhere where someone can’t drink the water. Why so many, and why have they gone without for so long?” I am certain she will be included in the next edition of Wab Kinew’s book about Indigenous heroes! Our country is better with her voice.
The Vancouver School District has identified an Indigenous Goal for all of our public schools: To increase knowledge, acceptance, empathy, awareness and appreciation of Indigenous histories, traditions, cultures and contributions among all students
At David Livingstone Elementary, we will be exploring the Indigenous Principles of Learning incorporated in the new curriculum in British Columbia and exploring Indigenous ways of knowing. Our starting points will be in the school community garden. It will be a place to learn about indigenous plants and how they were used by local Indigenous groups as food and as medicine. We’ll also be exploring many of the legends that are based on different aspects of nature. We have lots to learn and we’re ready to begin.
This blog post is intended for families in the school community to help get students prepared for the rainy season.
I understand that in the far north, the Inuit people have many words for snow and ice. Each word indicates an overt or sometimes subtle difference in the snow and ice. It could reflect the conditions or qualities within the ice and snow. As a Vancouverite, we see snow as fluffy which translates into not good for snowballs but very pretty. There is “perfect snowball” weather which translates into good for building snow people, forts and snowballs. Then there is wet snow which is horrific for driving in and is generally a wet, soggy mess. There is slippy ice we can see and black ice that forms a slick surface and is hazardous on foot and in the car. Our vocabulary around ice and snow is pretty basic.
Vancouver is an amazing place to live and is a popular tourist destination because of the oceans, the rivers, the lakes, the mountains and the green. Basically it is amazing because of the water. It provides an astounding range of things to do and a diversity of plants and animals in our own backyards. It is a place that beckons us to “Get Outside”. The reality is this amazing city exists because we live in a temperate rainforest. The temperature remains mild throughout most of the year. We don’t have snow and ice very often so we don’t really see the nuanced differences. What we know is rain. Throughout the year, it sprinkles, floats down water, drizzles, mists, showers, rains, rains cats and dogs, pours, and sleets. I challenge you to add to the list of words and expressions to describe our plentiful precipitation.
The question that always comes up is what to do when it rains. One option is to just stay inside. I must admit, I love a rainy day when I can curl up with a good book and a pot of tea. However this is just not a feasible everyday option. Life goes on, even on a rainy day. We have places to go and a body that requires activity to be healthy. I believe there are three understandings to be ready for the rain.
Number 1: Wardrobe MattersIf you are warm and dry, you are ready for anything.
The standards include:
A waterproof coat, preferably with a hood.This allows maximum flexibility to do stuff.
Boots.There will be puddles.
An umbrella.I have purchased many and have left them all over the city. I worked at Lost Property for Metro Transit when I was in university and there were hundreds of umbrellas of every size and colour left on busses. Guess what the most common colour was abandoned in the Lost Property Department?
Number 2: Attitude Matters Regardless of how miserably you complain, it will rain.
If you choose to be miserable because it is raining, you are committing yourself to a lot of bad days. When you frown at the world, it frowns back. Smile and make a rainy day plan.
Number 3: Observe Rainy Day Life Life in the rain is different. Not better or worse, just different.
Just after my daughter’s 6th birthday, we went traveling in Italy. A torrential downpour hit one evening in Venice. People ran for cover. Our family was the only one strolling down the street and delighted with the break from the perpetual heat. My daughter looked up at me and said “Oh, Mommy. It smells like home.”
It did. And it was glorious!
Perspective is everything. Expect rain. When it comes, dress appropriately and venture outdoors. Adapt your activities to accommodate the changes. Running on wet concrete can be a problem. Find another option. Going for a walk under a big umbrella is a good option. Open your eyes and look for changes. One of the first songs I learned in kindergarten at Queen Mary Elementary School from Mrs. Hicks was “Robin in the Rain.” There is a reason there is a song about it. Look how the plants and animals respond with joy to the rain. Close your eyes and take a big breath and try to describe it. Look up and notice how the clouds change.
Expect that almost every day will be an outdoor day. And smile about it 🙂
I am on the Steering Committee of a group called Wild About Vancouver, brainchild of our fearless leader, Dr. Hart Banack, UBC. This is a particularly good opportunity because I get together with people who experience the concept of #GetOutdoors on so many different levels. Our conversation started with a goal of organizing an outdoor festival to get people of all ages out as participants and stewards of our amazing city, Vancouver, British Columbia. Yes, Canada for those of you familiar with another Vancouver, south of our border. Vancouver in itself provides many opportunities for outdoor activity and is widely known for the active lifestyle of it’s residents. The outdoors provides many possibilities to enhance mental health, physical well-being, environment awareness and action, as well as curricular instruction.
I am writing this blog on the deck of my father’s cabin in the Eastern Sierras at the doorstep of Yosemite. Just like my first visit at 9 years old and ever after, I am awake before anyone else. This was one of my favorite places to be when I was a little girl on visits with my older sister down south to see my father, step-mother, and later younger siblings. I could get up and out. No burglar alarm to be dis-armed. There were discoveries to be made and other early risers in the world. And I had energy to expend. Lots and lots of energy. Cabin life allowed for that to be a natural part of life. We hiked beyond the waterfall. Rowed. Played “Kick the Can” endlessly with the other cabin kids. Tried to steer the motor boat clear of the dangers of pipes hidden in reeds, sand bars and trees in the lake and on the “jungle cruise” aka stream. Fishing was a challenge for me unless we were casting and then reeling those rainbow trout in. I was a high activity kid. As an educator and a Mom, I had a personally tested strategy of using the outdoors as a way to increase focus in the classroom and to get kids to sleep at night.
I carried the habit of running, biking, hiking, and physically challenging myself into adulthood. I learned as an adult that no one actually cared how you did at something. Sometimes just trying was a victory. I did my first Terry Fox 10 km Run for Cancer Research at the urging of my husband. I believed passionately in the cause. I watched Terry run on the nightly news and my Mom had already suffered her first bout of breast cancer. I hit the 9 km mark and thought I was going to have to stop when a volunteer on the sideline yelled “good form”. That carried me to the finish line with renewed energy, through many Sun Runs, My First and only Triathlon at Cultus Lake, and getting back to running after pregnancies and injuries. Experiences skiing during my high school years, made learning to snowboard achievable. Familiarity on my bike made the bike trip through the Prince Edward Island a glorious adventure. A willingness to try some new physical challenge frequently ended with an increased sense of pride. When that didn’t happen, it resulted in a good story, frequently filled with laughter.
When I graduated from the University of British Columbia, it was the 80’s and very difficult to get a teaching job in Vancouver. I did another year at UBC to get a diploma in English Education while continuing to worked in a daycare / out of school care centre. My quest “to teach” was infused with my supervision responsibilities. I got my Class 4 driver’s license and we took those pre-schoolers all over the lower mainland of Vancouver to explore. School aged kids were welcomed to Sparetime Fun Centre after school and organized into clubs. We went outside to collect materials for arts and crafts. We ran. We danced. We played. We learned. By the time I got a full-time job at 22, learning through play indoors and outdoors was a well-established part of my understanding of how you establish rapport and create bridges between experience and curriculum.
I did my mandatory “out of town” practicum in Abbotsford, British Columbia, because I could stay for free with my paternal grand-parents. When I had my son, I wanted to be closer to home and started working in Coquitlam, where we had purchased our first home. When our youngest daughter went off to Queen’s University, my husband and I promptly moved back to Vancouver where I grew up and both of us lived, prior to kids. The place I was teaching, determined how I went about teaching the curriculum. In Abbotsford, background experience of students included experiences with gardens, cows, berry picking, farms and the ever-present smell of manure from spring to fall. In Coquitlam, salmon spawning in streams, raccoons in garbage, bear awareness when hiking or running in the park, and deer wandering on roads was common place. In Vancouver, walking and biking as a preferred mode of transportation, many local mountains for skiing and snowboarding, beaches, seagulls, crows and ethnic cuisine permeates life. This awareness of place has increasingly become part of education as we have reflected on how we incorporate understandings that are implicit in the Indigenous cultures that were present long before Canada emerged as a country.
The location of the school in British Columbia impacts how many Indigenous students attend. This sometimes provides a block for staffs trying to authentically incorporate Indigenous teachings into the curriculum. However, the sense of place provides an entry point for all students to gain insight into Indigenous ways of knowing. Examining how the place we live impacts our experiences, lends itself to going outdoors and considering our present and historical context. Many things in life cannot be anticipated or guaranteed with confidence. If you live in Vancouver, I can guarantee that it will rain and I can even tell you what that smells like. As a 6-year-old in Venice, my daughter looked up at me and smiled and said “It smells like home, Mummy”, when it started to rain. These understandings over time are the things we can learn from the stories from our local Indigenous people. Medicine Wheel teachings that have been incorporated into many Indigenous cultures have much to teach about how we make decisions, resolve conflict and achieve mental health.
My mother was in the hospital awaiting a procedure when I was called into the room to calm her down.
My response, “Breathe, Mum…No. Not like that. Into your abdomen… You know…Yoga, breathing. No. Not like that.”
My mother’s exasperated response: “You mean I’ve been breathing wrong my whole life?”
The poor nurses came running when we both burst out in uncontrollable laughter with tears running down our faces. They thought they had lost us both. However, there is a reason that the Japanese have taken the world by storm with “Shrin-yoko” or “forest bathing” since the 1980’s, yoga practices have become common place for people of all religions, and Indigenous teachings to improve physical and mental health are being considered. They teach contemplative practices and breathing that is very much centred on experience in nature. As a special education teacher and school principal, much of my work has been teaching students how to self-calm BEFORE problem solving. The first step is always to slow down breathing and learn what strategies work for you. My first go to strategy is physical activity but all of my students can tell you that a pot of Earl Grey tea works wonders for me. The trick is to have more than one strategy that works for you.
We have many amazing educators on the Wild About Vancouver Steering Committee. Although I have many years of experience in education from kindergarten to the university level, as a classroom teacher, administrator and university instructor, I am constantly learning from our committee members who come with varied experiences and approaches to how they get children to pay attention to the nature around them. Although I can’t prioritize what is most important about experiences outdoors, I strongly believe it is our success in getting children to pay attention that has the most significant impact on teaching curriculum. When we closely consider something, we come up with the best questions. The best questions result in the deepest learning and meaningful discovery. Engaging with nature is a catalyst for curiosity and the learning that comes with it.
Wild About Vancouver Committee members have all come together because we love Vancouver and want to fully engage people of all ages outdoors in all our city that has so much to offer. What we believe is most important varies with who you are talking to on the Steering Committee or what participant. Our ideas and suggestions are very contextual in that we are sharing what we know as Vancouverites. We have a one week long Wild About Vancouver Festival every year with a grand WAV event in the city. However, the learning and the application of this learning is relevant in any context. I have learned so much from participating in twitter chats and blogs originating in England and Germany. I have also taken from Reggio Emilia early education teachings with roots in Italy by doing lots of reading and visiting the Opal School in Portland, Oregon. And I’m pondering Wild About Vancouver at my Silver Lake playground in the East Sierras on the California – Nevada border. This model of celebration of outdoor activity takes place in many cities. The Wild About Vancouver model takes it one step further by incorporating a celebration of the outdoors with a striving to deepen the learning we take from nature in all aspects of our lives.
Please include us in your you tweets about Outdoor learning @WildAboutVan and tag us with #getoutdoors and #outdoorlearning in all social media posts. For you Vancouverites, we are always looking for participants and Steering Committee members if you are so inclined. Check us out at https://www.wildaboutvancouver.com/
I arrived at one Vancouver school as administrator and was surprised that there was only one large climbing web for all of the students. The old wooden playground had already deteriorated and been removed long ago. The provincial government allowed applications from casino funds to be directed towards building school playgrounds. The Parent Advisory Committee was on the hook to do fundraising to raise most of the funds. It was a difficult neighbourhood to fundraise. Caring was plentiful. Cash was not. The PAC president, Sirtaj Ali, led the charge. Wednesday pizza day, casino funds and donations over the course of 7 years went towards two phases of the playground installation. Save-On Foods took on the community build of the second phase as a team building activity for staff. They arrived with huge numbers, a wealth of enthusiasm, bagged lunches for all of us and for the most part were finished in one day.
The kids, staff, VSB Grounds department and particularly the PAC were heavily involved in this project. We met. We strategized. We involved the staff and students in making recommendations, voting on the mock up from the Playground company they preferred and even the colours. And we celebrated when it was finally done. The fitness circuit built into it was a favourite with students, teachers and community members.
I was transferred to a new school site. As the daughter of a neurosurgeon, I grew up to be wary of safety infractions. As a very conscientious principal at a new school, I was on high alert for things that needed to be taken care of. My background knowledge with playgrounds helped me quickly identify, the playground needed some care. Some pieces just didn’t work. Regularly there was something else that was broken or falling apart. The process in the Vancouver School Board is to submit a SCHOOL DUDE for required work. This would send create the work order that would be submitted to the appropriate department without remaining on hold on the telephone. Great system. The people in the VSB Grounds Department are great. My Operating Engineer, Lin Low, and I would discuss the problems, tape off the NO PLAY zone and I would the submit the School Dude. Geoff Pearmain and the VSB Grounds crew did everything they could to try to repair the existing structure.
The playground was only ten years old but the PAC of the day had decided to go with a friend that built playgrounds. Shortly after the company was out of business, parts were unavailable and issues began to emerge. For this reason, the VSB now requires that four suppliers are approved with strong track records for quality and enduring reputation. The final straw for the playground came in May of my first year at the school when a chunk of rotting wood fell out of swing bridge, compromising the integrity of the entire bridge and access to the other structures. It also triggered a full safety inspection that concluded that the entire structure would need to be condemned.
This was not a surprise to me but an anticipated eventuality. My sister lives in Texas. One of their good friends sued her and her husband when their son hurt his leg on the slide in their backyard at a birthday party. I well understand the safety risk for students and the litigiousness of our North American context. If it wasn’t safe, I wanted it down. Students were quite pragmatic about the need to get a new playground and readily shifted their attention to what they would like to see in a new playground. One of the PAC parents went into high gear looking for funding options.
The provincial landscape had also shifted around funding school playgrounds. The Provincial Government allocated three years of funding to alleviate Parent Advisory Committees from the responsibility of replacing playgrounds and making them more accessible. This year, the BC government provided funding for 50 new or accessibility upgrades to playgrounds in 34 BC school districts. The Vancouver School Board was allowed to submit three applications to build playgrounds or make school playgrounds more accessible. Our school was a natural choice being the only school without a playground. We were allocated $105,000 and two other sites received funding to make them more accessible.
One of our PAC members, Leah Chapman, worked with me to provide the information required to complete, submit and successfully access a Federal accessibility grant of $14,383.00. Mona Hassaneen and Ossama Abdel-Hamid were able to access a Benevity Community Impact grant of $1,307.33. Their employer, Apple Inc., was willing to match their employee donations to an approved recipients as part of this program. I learned that the VSB has been approved as an acceptable charity and several employers have participated in these grants. The Hamber Foundation provided a donation for $1000.00 towards the cost of the accessible swing. Several of the members in our school community also made donations to ensure the playground build included all of the desired elements. Jen McCutcheon (PAC) and Andrea McEwen (teacher) worked with SwingTime and engaged with the school community to design a playground that would be fun, accessible and designed with our location in the Pacific Spirit Park in mind.
The year without a playground was not as painful as some people feared. This was partially due to the responsiveness of my Director of Instruction, Aaron Davis, to my request for funding for Community School Team staff at the school twice a week during lunch time. The CST staff came into the school and worked with my student leaders. They provided support to these students to develop their capacity to direct younger students to play possibilities and problem solve when conflicts arose. The CST staff also taught large group games and provided scaffolding for student leaders twice a week on the playground. They supported children in using the Buddy Bench and provided materials to engage students, including bubbles, chalk and skipping ropes.
The first year I arrived, I had prohibited parking on the Primary soccer field, and had the field reseeded during the summer. When this field was finally re-opened in fall 2018, the Kindergarten to Grade 3 students were delighted. Initially they would roll in the grass as well as play soccer on it. They loved having their own luscious, green, designated space. I worked out a deal with University Endowment Lands manager, Jonn Braman, to deal with our parking issues during school events and parents eventually got used to the parking prohibition on the field. Intermediate students had the two upper fields to spread out on. Soccer was a regular activity. Baseball, kickball, and other large group games were also very popular.
It was necessary to create a variety of spaces and activities for students to engage in over the course of the year. Three things were particularly successful. One area outside of the lunchroom and library was named The Reading-Writing Garden. A group of kids met with me to make mobiles to hang from the tree, hang bird feeders, reorganize flower pots, do some replanting and bring books to sit on the rocks or benches and read or write in journals. This same area was the meeting space for The Bird Buddies. I posted a poster in the library facing outside, with local birds that we could identify. When my Nanny Keenan’s opera glasses and my binoculars were in sufficiently high demand, I purchased a set of good quality binoculars. I taught binocular use and care. Once trained the students were allowed to take the binoculars beyond The Reading-Writing Garden and see if they could sight birds flying around us in the Pacific Spirit Park. Eventually I also got rain-proof books from Mountain Equipment Co-op so they could tally the birds they saw.
Special thanks to my Wild About Vancouver buddy, Megan Zeni @Roomtoplay, I set up a Mud Kitchen. I am a big fan of twitter for ideas @CarrieFroese. I had lots of ideas from both Megan, and twitterchats starting in England and Germany. I happened to share my wild and wonderful plans with Megan at one of our Wild About Vancouver @WildAboutVan planning meetings. Megan’s response:
“Or you could clean out your cupboards and throw the stuff in an old laundry basket and put it out for kids to play with.”
When the portable had been removed from our site during my first year at the school, the staff had made the decision to install an outdoor learning area. We had more garden boxes built installed and a big circle of twelve stones. It provided seating for a class of 30 during outdoor learning, lent itself to circle games, teaching Indigenous ways of knowing, and the teaching of directions and time. Incidently it was also a perfect place for The University Hill Elementary School Mud Kitchen. The rocks are perfect counter tops and appliances for concoctions of all sorts. The very favorite items in the Mud Kitchen were the measuring cups, sifters for the sand, spoons and to go coffee cups that have long ago lost their lids. I could be guaranteed a non-fat low foam latte if I ventured to the Mud Kitchen at recess. As items went walking, new donations came in. Wendy Yip, UBC president, Santa Ono’s wife, came for a visit in Spring. Afterwards we received not only a thank-you card, but also some donations for the Mud Kitchen. Thanks, Wendy!
In the Vancouver School Board, teachers do not do supervision duty at recess and lunch. I was fortunate to work with three very experienced playground supervisors. We met regularly to come up with pre-emptive solutions to emerging issues. When I was re-assigned to another school this Spring, the prevalent feeling was that we had developed a definite sense of team. I will certainly miss these ladies and the Education Assistants who were also regularly out on the playground supporting students at recess and lunch. I’m glad we were part of this journey together. Although we are delighted to have a playground, I’m sure that many of the other elements introduced will endure and add depth to the outdoor learning of the students. Hopefully this post will help for those of you asking for some direction when a new playground needs to be built.
I grew up living, learning and playing in Vancouver, British Columbia, on the ancestral and unceded lands of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. I saw Indigenous people but I did not hear their voices. In school we learned about a culture that was part of our past. Not our present. Definitely not our future. Yesterday on National Indigenous Peoples Day, the first day of summer on June 21, 2019, that had changed. And to quote an expert on joy, Chief Dan George, ”And my heart soars”.
In the Summer 2019 edition of the Montecristo magazine, Robert Davidson talks about when he erected a totem in Masset in 1969. It was the first one that had been raised since the 1880’s. “…it opened the door for the elders to pass the incredible knowledge that was muted…Before the totem pole was raised we had no idea of their knowledge. I had no idea that art was so important.” I think Vancouver educators are hopeful that the poles raised at the VSB this week to advance reconciliation with Indigenous people and celebrated on National Indigenous Peoples Day with 1000 plus people to bear witness to the event, will be part of many positive and productive learning conversations. I am deeply grateful that Akemi Eddy took her Grade 1 students to see the carvers in process and brought back wood shavings. Angie Goetz was able to support students in transforming the shavings into their own beautiful art. Akemi also took three of our students with Indigenous heritage down to the VSB ceremony with our ever-supportive PAC parent, Kathleen Leung- Delorme. These students were able to bear witness to the smudge at the beginning of the day in the presence of Judy Wilson-Raybould and Joyce Perrault.
I was fortunate to meet Joyce Perrault when I was the vice-principal at Norma Rose Point K-8 school in Vancouver. It was one of the many schools that she was working as an Indigenous Education Enhancement Worker. Not only was she able to establish a strong rapport with students in the relatively short weekly assignment at the school, but she was a sweet and gentle soul with a plethora of ideas to empower Indigenous students in finding their own voices, and to support non-Indigenous students in applying Indigenous teachings to explore their own pathways. The hallway displays were inspired, interactive and collaborative ventures created with the Indigenous students she was working with. She had put together a flipbook of the Medicine Wheel Teachings from her Anishinaabe/ Ojibwe heritage that she had implemented with students over the years. She was looking for a publisher. I had no doubt it would be published. She thought the publisher would use her text and drawings. I thought that the publisher would use the text and assign an artist to market it as a hardcopy version that could be used in libraries and on coffee tables, as well as a soft cover for use by individual kids.
The publisher smart enough to pick up the book was Peppermint Toast Publishing. It is a small publisher in New Westminster that publishes one book per year. They made a wise choice. Joyce Perrault’s first book, All Creation Represented: A Child’s Guide to the Medicine Wheel, was published in 2017 with Terra Mar’s amazing illustrations. The Vancouver School Board alone has purchased 250 copies. Her second publication is in process to support educators in teaching Indigenous ways of knowing through Medicine Wheel teachings.
This year, as principal of University Hill Elementary School, I did not have the number of Indigenous students, to warrant the assignment of an Indigenous Education Enhancement worker. However in Vancouver, it is mandatory for all public schools to have an Indigenous goal to support the quest to decolonize education. At University Hill Elementary, our Indigenous goal is: To increase knowledge, acceptance, empathy, awareness and appreciation of Indigenous histories, traditions, cultures and contributions among all students in an authentic way.
Our teachers took on this goal with enthusiasm. When I arrived at the school, Melody Ludski, had already taken the lead in having a spindal whorl commissioned by Musqueam carver, Richard Campbell. He came to unveil his amazing carving with his daughter shortly after the Truth and Reconciliation walk in 2017. I was talking about how impressed I had been with the fluency of the young woman speaking Musqueam on the stage at the end of the Truth and Reconciliation Walk, only to discover that she was Richard Campbell’s daughter. And she was standing in front of me. Bonus! We had amazing teaching that day and our students were able to hear the welcome in the Musqueam language from Richard’s daughter, Vanessa Campbell . Richard Campbell also shared the process of his carving, from the inspiration in the selection of wood to the finished product. He also shared that he was a survivor of the residential school system. Students, educators and parents in the audience witnessed first-hand the pain of the experience and the incredible support in the father-daughter relationship.
Many of our teachers have been engaged in personal, professional development around Indigenous teachings via VSB supported inquiry studies, school based professional development, book clubs and university coursework. Our students have been the winners. Delta authored materials published by Strong Nation Publishing have been implemented by primary teachers to teach core competencies. Ideas have been implemented from Jennifer Katz book, Ensouling Our Schools – A Universally designed framework for mental health, well-being, and reconciliation.
Staff got together to plan an outdoor learning space once the portables were removed from our site. A large circle of twelve large rocks that were big enough to seat 30 students were installed to facilitate outdoor learning. Some teachers wanted twelve rocks to teach time. Many agreed one needed to be placed to indicate true north and all of the compass directions. Some of us were excited with the possibilities for use as a talking / listening circle, as practiced in many of our classrooms, as well as integration of other Indigenous teachings. The Musqueam have gifted the VSB with the word, Nə́ caʔmat ct, which means “We Are One”, as part of our move towards reconciliation. I personally love thinking about it that way and calling it that as a way of honouring that our school is on Musqueam ancestral lands and demonstrating our openness to learning.
The intermediate curriculum benfited with the success of The Human Rights Internet Grant (www.hri.ca) for $1900.00 to implement new curriculum with Grade 4/5 students with a human rights lens on our Indigenous people. Students learned about the United Nations Declaration of Rights and Freedoms which was adopted by Canada in 1959 and the implications of these rights for our Indigenous people. It allowed us to show honour and respect by inviting Indigenous speakers to share Indigenous teachings with our students. Intermediate students had inspirational drumming and storytelling sessions with Alec Dan and teachings about indigenous plants by Martin Sparrow in the Pacific Spirit Park. This Human Rights Internet Grant also enabled UHill Elementary students to share their outdoor learning with students from Norma Rose Point during the Wild About Vancouver Celebration in April. It also allowed us to invite Indigenous speakers to share their teachings with the entire school including: Debra Sparrow to talk about the replica of one of the MOA (Museum of Anthropology) weavings by her and her sister Robyn Sparrow that we recently purchased and display in our foyer; Shyama Priya to share her Powwow dancing, including participatory opportunities for our students; Martin Sparrow doing the Indigenous Acknowledgement and sharing his teachings at the 2nd Annual University Hill Elementary Multi-cultural Fair; Martin Sparrow sharing bannock and salmon pate at our Earth Day BBQ. Joyce Perrault was also willing and able to request some of her teaching time allotment to come and share her book with our Grade 3 students and her process of writing it with our aspiring UHill Elementary authors.
Vincente Regis, a new PAC member, came forward with an idea for a school community Arts Festival at a PAC Meeting this Spring. He spoke passionately about the Arts Festivals he had implemented in Brazil as an educator. With enthusiastic support from PAC, we started meeting shortly after the PAC meeting to begin the planning for the first UHill Elementary Arts Festival. He very much wanted it to unfold before the end of the school year while momentum was high. When we decided on the date when we weren’t building the playground, and when I could access staging and tables for the event, Vincente immediately understood the significance of the Arts Festival taking place on Indigenous Peoples Day and the opportunity to honour the Indigenous voice and the contribution to Indigenous people in all aspects of the arts. He promptly began planning to incorporate an Indigenous song from Brazil with our students. I went to work to find an Indigenous artist willing and available to open with the Indigenous acknowledgement and put a spotlight on the Indigenous contribution in the arts.
The British Columbia Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association (BCLCILA) is currently going through a period of revitalization and relocation to Vancouver, British Columbia. Due to the BCLCILA / International Literacy Association membership of two UHill Elementary staff members and the support of BCLCILA, we were able to invite Joyce Perrault to not only facilitate an after-school session with educators in May, but also participate in the school community event on Indigenous Peoples Day, June 21, 2019 from 3:30 – 6:30 pm. She graciously accepted even though her morning started with her participation in the VSB ceremony to honour the raising of the 13-metre pole carved by James Harry of the Squamish Nation, and his father Xwalack-tun, a master carver with 50 years’ experience, as well as the male and female welcome poles by Musqueam carvers, William Dan and his family and his siblings Chrystal and Chris Sparrow. Big day!
Laura Tait, respected Indigenous educator, and current Assistant Superintendent at Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools (SD 68) has been cited to have said “If you want to know about Indigenous culture, make an Indigenous friend.” That has been the basis of trying to provide opportunities for developing community with our Indigenous neighbours. I have now participated with Joyce as she has engaged in learning conversations with students, educators, and parents. Her pride in her Ojibwe / Metis heritage has remained constant. Her voice has grown along with the number of people wanting to hear her story …”And my heart soars.” And more importantly, so does hers. Our path to reconciliation needs to include more of these spaces for the development of Indigenous voice and friendships.