A small boy stands at the back of a group of children. They gather around the day camp counsellor, who is holding a frog. The boy is drawn to the small green creature but also a little afraid: he has never held a frog before. Eventually he screws up his courage and takes it in his hands. He smiles.
That experience is part of the magic of outdoor education. Last fall, the Foundation made a grant to Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority (ABCA) to help teachers learn more about teaching outdoors during Covid.
“It’s very important for children to get outside interacting with living creatures in their surroundings,” says Denise Iszczuk, Conservation Educator with the Authority. “It’s inquiry-based learning – they see something, they question it, and then they want to find out more about it. It’s just a great learning environment.”
Denise adds that after 18 months of Covid it’s especially important for children to have the opportunity interact with one another, and that’s easier to do safely outdoors. Still, it has been a learning curve for her and her colleague Nina Sampson. “We’ve always thought about the safety of the children and the animals,” she says, “but now we have to think of being safe in new ways.”
The original plan for the grant was to offer teacher education in September 2020, but the second wave of Covid changed that. Many schools didn’t allow people from outside the community to enter the schoolyard. Because teachers were teaching online, Denise moved her teacher education online, using both live stream and you tube technology. She continued to speak to principals and teachers about their learning needs. In March she offered an online wetlands workshop, with 20 attendees.
Now that in-person school is expected to re-open in September, Denise is hoping to offer virtual or in-person training for teachers preparing to return to the classroom. Field trips to conservation areas probably won’t be possible during the fall, but there’s lots that can be in the school yard, she says. “It’s great to see the excitement in children as they explore nature,” she says. “Special memories are being formed.”