I was first introduced to Outdoor Education as an international student completing my teaching degree in New South Wales, Australia. Although I was familiar with “Environmental Ed,” it was not until I experienced The Earth Keepers program that I acquired a deeper understanding of experiential learning. For one, I discovered that traversing the Australian back country is very different than bushwhacking through Canadian forests. The abundance of poisonous snakes, arachnids and spiny plants required a deliberate mind shift. Luckily, my Aussie instructors were quick to correct my “Canadian style hiking.” When the program concluded, many of my classmates agreed that exploring unfamiliar territory in an unfamiliar country was a learning experience that would be remembered forever.
Every September, KCS students participate in our longstanding tradition of outdoor education. Led by outdoor specialists and KCS faculty, Grade 6, 7 and 8 students are immersed in many unforgettable experiences. Each three-day program is uniquely tailored to help students reconnect with classmates, engage in team-building exercises and begin the fall term both re-energized and in a positive frame of mind.
Our students are practicing farm-to-table by preparing meals created with ingredients harvested within a hundred kilometer radius of the city. They are building trust and teamwork by navigating challenging ropes courses and testing their limits with rock climbing and rappelling at Rattlesnake Point. And my personal favourite, students are introduced to early Canadian history when they reconstruct the challenging life an 18th century fur trader.
All of these activities are linked together by a fundamental and defining thread: Hands-on learning flourishes when students take responsible risks, step out of their comfort zones and push themselves to try something new.
As many of us become more accustomed to an urban lifestyle, connecting with the outdoors has become an important issue. I am reminded of Richard Louv’s influential book Last Child in the Woods. As our cities grow and green spaces recede, Louv’s poignant observation that “direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults” seems to ring true now more than ever. In the beginning, I thought that I understood outdoor education. I thought that I was a capable outdoor enthusiast. I thought that environmental education was simply learning in an outdoor classroom. Australian Earth Keepers opened my eyes. Experiential learning at KCS opened them even wider.
Outdoor education at Kingsway College School not only encourages students to try their best, but it also recognizes that leadership, environmental stewardship, and personal development reap benefits that transcend the traditional classroom. Besides, where else can you dress up as the Mad Trapper of Norval?