By Environmental Educator Kirsten Dallimore
This spring the education team launched a new program; this time it was for our teachers here in the CRD! The teacher nature mentorship program has already enabled 23 teachers to meet with me for an entire morning or afternoon to design their very own outdoor plan to incorporate into their regular weekly routine.
In each session I have supported teachers to create a plan so they are prepared to take their students outside into a nature space on a weekly basis. This nature space could be on their school grounds or a place within walking distance of the school. I have shared with the teachers a model they can follow when they go out, so they have a flow to their session that is based on the 4 directions, the energy of the group, and the activities they plan to do. I have shared ideas for activities based on their needs and interests such as First Nations’ studies, curriculum links and building local ecosystem knowledge.
To their surprise I have also provided the teachers with prepared materials for them to print and use right away that week. Together we went over what are called core routines such as sit spots, storytelling, and bird language, which are basic nature awareness techniques. Core routines are all done in the pursuit to help students both develop and strengthen their connection to nature, and a sense of place.
On a variety of occasions we went for our own nature walks near the school to a local nature space and went through a plan for how they would get there, where they would bring their students once they arrived and what activities would work in that place. Together we brainstormed topics they felt comfortable presenting in that place and made a list of additional materials they required that I could prepare and send to them to set them up for success. We discussed what would be included in a risk-benefit assessment of the area, and the risks of bringing them out to that location in relationship to why it would be most beneficial to bring their students there.
My job has been to provide teachers with ideas, materials and resources to support outdoor learning opportunities with their students. Some of the topics we covered were specific interests such as how to incorporate First Nations’ curriculum into outdoor learning opportunities, Garry Oak ecosystem teaching resources, biomimicry, nature play, stewardship opportunities and how to incorporate technology into outdoor learning.
We also addressed the needs and concerns coming from teachers such as how to get parent volunteers involved to meet the required adult-to-student ratios, how to involve other classes through creating nature buddies, getting permission and access to local parks as well as how to raise support from administration, parents and other teachers for more outdoor learning opportunities within their schools.
It has been a privilege to work alongside teachers here in the CRD to design an outdoor plan for their students. I truly hope that we can inspire more classrooms to get outside, and that this momentum will keep building as this routine of outdoor learning is modelled throughout schools!