Every year I take my grade 6 class to my childhood playground – not the metal monkey bars, swings, or asphalt tarmac that most children think of as a “playground” but the open ﬁelds, streams, and forests near Shelburne, Ontario where I spent countless hours exploring, climbing trees, collecting tadpoles, and building forts.
It was in this carefree world, devoid of adult intervention, that I discovered a sense of freedom and belonging and where my appreciation and love for the outdoors began. The trees, the the water, and the air were my textbooks. From them I learned that in nature everything is Interconnected.
With many outdoor centres on the loosing end of the battle of resources, perhaps it’s time to think about how we can teach our children one of the most important literacy skills – environmental literacy! It is an almost impossible task to develop the connection with the environment if students are conﬁned within a traditional classroom.
For me, environmental literacy is much more than an academic understanding of the environment and its role in sustaining life on earth. It is about engaging students so they question established truths. It’s about helping them make informed decisions about the environment as well as about their own health.
Today, 82 percent of Canadian children under 12 live in an urban area.1 Most have little or no experience of life in a rural setting. Canadians have some of the highest Internet usage rates in the world, according to world-renowned Canadian scientist David Suzuki.2 He reported on research that shows “per capita visits to national parks (mainly in the USA) have been declining for nearly 20 years – largely as a result of increased time spent watching television and movies, playing video games and surﬁng the web.”3 The researchers concluded, “We may be seeing evidence of a fundamental shift away from people’s appreciation of nature biophilia,4 to videophilia … the new human tendency to focus on sedentary activities involving electronic media.”
A unique experience
The relationships and interactions between living things and their natural environment were things that I had the privilege of studying without even knowing I had signed up for the course. For me, it was just part of growing up in a rural setting. But for most of my students, it is a three-day “crash” course that happens only once in their time in elementary school.
The Sheldon Valley Outdoor Education Centre is one of ﬁve residential outdoor education centres the Toronto District School Board operates. These centres provide a unique opportunity for inner-city children. Nestled amidst rolling hills 15 km west of Alliston, Sheldon comprises 79 hectares of diverse ﬁeld, stream, and forest habitats.