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How Outdoor Education is Building Connection to the Natural World

Evergreen facilitators share their experience leading outdoor education programs for children and youth. 

How Outdoor Education is Building Connection to the Natural World

Published on September 12, 2022

Whether you’re just embarking on your studies, or your school days are long behind you, September always brings those back-to-school feelings. 

But back to school doesn’t have to mean back indoors. 

With both in-person and virtual education programs, Evergreen’s children and youth outdoor education programs focus on building lasting connections between students, educators and the natural world. 

“Place-based education is the idea of connecting kids with nature in their communities,” says Hannah Miller, Senior Program Officer at Evergreen. “We start off our programs with routines such as nature sightings, where children and facilitators exchange observations that they’ve made out in the natural world.”  

Evergreen programs take a playful, experience-based approach to learning about the intersection between urban, natural and built worlds while meaningfully addressing climate change, connection to place and Indigenous reconciliation.

Through school visits to Toronto’s Evergreen Brick Works, or through the Virtually Outdoors programs, which can be accessed from anywhere, kids of all ages can learn about a variety of topics, such as geology, waterways, local wildlife and teambuilding. 

“If we can build a relationship between children and their local environments when they're young, they will grow up to be more involved in their communities and more environmentally conscious when they're older,” Miller adds.

“Discovering and spending time in nature has the potential to create shifts in society towards a greater respect for nature.”

To learn more about the impact of outdoor education, we asked three Evergreen outdoor educators to share their experiences.

Olivia Caron in canoe

Nature name: Blueberry, because one of my most formative outdoor experiences was a week-long hike I did in Killarney. There were a ton of wild blueberries. We would fill up our water bottles and snack on them constantly!

What's it like to see kids connecting with nature? The first thing I always hear is that the kids are so excited to be here. I can feel their excitement in every conversation I have with them, and it is clear to me that these kids don’t get to spend enough time exploring nature. 

We spend most of our day exploring outside, and we let the kids guide their own learning as much as possible. Even after one day together I can see that kids are starting to think a bit differently, and many of them will make real world connections to things they have learned in the classroom. With every group that comes in, I feel like I have learned a lot too. Kids are naturally curious, and the best part of my job is that I get to let them follow their curiosities wherever it leads them.

Natalie Lam standing in field outdoors

Nature name: Cottontail, named after the Eastern Cottontail. These quiet creatures enjoy exploring both open fields and wooded forests — as do I!

What do you love about the Virtually Outdoors program? From learning how to identify a red-tailed hawk by its giveaway tail to creating one’s very own food chain, every Virtually Outdoors program is different from the last. Piqued curiosity and eagerness to learn was palpable even through the screen. 

Virtually Outdoors is not only an enriching educational program, it also provides a welcome break from the usual classroom routine. I often find myself learning and laughing right alongside the students. In addition, a virtual program affords students and teachers the flexibility to experience the magic of Evergreen Brick Works right from their homes, classrooms, and sometimes even from the playground. Nature and education know no bounds and the Virtually Outdoors program is certainly a testament to that.

Mae Klein outdoors

Nature name: Willow, because of a wise old willow tree at a creek next to where I grew up. It always brings me comfort in times of transition, and I continue to visit it to this day.

What's your favourite part of the program? Fire programs are one of my favourite activities to facilitate. There is the practical side, involving the discussion around what makes up a fire, the collection of materials and the exploration around what formation of sticks and twigs will best sustain it. 

Then there’s something bigger – the confidence and sense of independence that comes when they finally light their birch bark or char cloth. These programs exercise a healthy amount of risk that encourages them to go outside and experiment (with guidance), and trust that with a little patience they can accomplish some really cool pursuits. 

One of my favourite things to hear from a kid at the end of the day is “I can’t wait to go camping with my family and show them how to start a fire!” It’s a privilege to help ignite that passion when facilitating these outdoor programs.  

Learn more

The Visiting Schools Program at Evergreen Brick Works and the Virtually Outdoors program — free for public schools in Ontario — have opened their registration for another school year. Thank you to the many donors that support this vital work, including HSBC and Bank of America.