Make Your Kids Go Outside

I’d like to preface this post by thanking every person who’s ever made me go outside in my life. Most of the time, this would be my parents, but it also includes camp counsellors, teachers, childhood friends, and the ice cream truck. Thank you to all of you, because I fully believe that being forced to go outside has gotten me to where I am today.

This fall, I spent my time teaching the Sunship Earth program at YMCA Wanakita. I spend my summers at this camp every year, and this is the first time I’ve been there for the fall- it was incredible! Teaching Sunship Earth opened my eyes further to outdoor education, and how important it is.

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Wanakita trails in the fall

One of the students pointed out to me that this fern looks like it’s “being framed by the sun, just so I could find it!”

Sunship Earth is a 4-day program for grade 6 students, created by Steve van Matre and the IEE (Institute for Earth Education). The IEE has also created other programs run out of other sites, such as Earthkeepers, which I taught at the Bronte Creek Project! (And you all know about my never-ending love for BCP.)  During Sunship, the students are immersed in earth education. From the moment they arrive at camp, they are doing hands-on exploration activities that teach them to look at the earth in a different way. They learn that, as humans, we are as much a part of the planet as a tree or a squirrel – we’re all connected to each other. They walk “concept trails”, doing interactive activities that reinforce their learning as they move through the forest. As a Sunship staff member, I didn’t do too much of the teaching involved with the program – that was for our counsellors, high school students who volunteered their time to come up for a week and teach the activities. I did, however, get the chance to step back and watch kids make discoveries about their world – one of my favourite things to do.

Most of the kids who came up for the program had barely spent any time outside. With the exception of one school, they were from cities and suburban areas. Coupled with the amount of time they were spending in front of electronics, these kids spent just enough time outside to walk to school and back. Spending 4 days at a camp (with no electronics!) was a bit of a shock for some, but it allowed for maximum discovery making! Some of these discoveries were simple, such as seeing the Big Dipper for the first time without streetlights blocking the view, or seeing goose footprints in the mud. Some of them were complex, like tracking the rapid growth of a fungus over a 24-hour period. Some of them were something that may never happen again to these kids, such as seeing a baby Northern Ringneck snake on the trail (something that amazed even me!). Below are some photos of the discoveries the kids made, though I could never capture the sheer number of things they found!

Doll’s Eye Berries

Orange Slime Mold

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Horseshoe Shelf Mushroom – marked by our discoverers!

I know how important outdoor experiences are to kids. They can learn about their own boundaries, learn to assess risk in a tangible way, and find a connection to the world around them. Scraping your knee while running around seems to hurt less than when you do inside. Small things like getting dirty don’t matter anymore – making the leap from one boulder to another matters more than worrying about landing in the mud puddle below.

Make your kids go outside, if not to make them learn, but at least to make them a little bit tougher. Make them go outside and explore – and don’t let them come back in until they find something cool. Chances are that at that point, they won’t want to come back in.

Touch The Earth,

Emma — The Suburban Aggie

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