Our Learning Adventure in the Wild

The points of a compass are North, East, South and West but the grade 5’s at Ridgeview Elementary redefined the points through the lens of environmental stewardship last week as we took our classroom outdoors.

Our classroom was Camp Fircom on Gambier Island and our teachers were the educators of Sea to Sky Outdoor School. Otherwise known as Islanders.

For me, Outdoor Ed is a valuable learning experience for students as it remains one of the positive memories of school that a majority of adults take with them as they get older. Personally, I remember: the cabins, the trampoline, the general environment and the ghost stories that kept us securely in our bunks and sleeping bags at night.

As an educator, I have had the opportunity to take a number of classes over the years to different Outdoor Education programs. A common thread that has run between them all has been the students who extend themselves well beyond their comfort zones. I will never forget Kirsty, a Year 5 student in England, who would not try the climbing wall until after a short conversation and heaps of encouragement from her classmates. She made it halfway, then again needed 10 minutes of positive reinforcement to reach the top. As she reached the last hold, a smile that would melt snow came across her face and never left over the course of our camp. Years later, she told me it was one of her favourite memories of school. That is the beauty of Outdoor Ed as many students have similar memories of accomplishments big and small.

My experience at Sea to Sky was different. Where other programs emphasize Outdoor activities, the Islanders focussed on Education. The learning was centred around the points of the compass and each point represented an old way, and a new way of thinking about the environment. Each morning and afternoon we had circle time where a point of the compass was introduced to the students in an engaging, entertaining, interactive and purposeful manner. This was followed by activities and discussion that reinforced the message of the lessons. Through their involvement in the natural classroom the students demonstrated incredible enthusiasm for their learning. Our students knew the names of every slug they placed on their face, were mindful to point out creatures on their hikes to protect them from being stepped on, frequently asked interesting questions about the environment around them, and happily engaged in group discussions. It was authentic learning at it’s best.

What I found most exciting were the discussions that took place during camp and have carried forward into the classroom. The students have spoken about; their New way of thinking, the Ethics of looking after themselves, those around them and the environment; ensuring they act in a manner that encourages Sustainability; and how they will have to Work to ensure their environments remain healthy places to live. Sea to Sky provided the students with the toolbox to make these happen, and our students are putting their learning into action.

Outdoor Ed was a wonderful learning experience and further cemented my belief in the value of this adventure for students.

*Bowen Island Community School in the West Vancouver School District has developed Outside45 which will bring those outdoor learning experiences students have at camp, to their everyday education.
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