Tag Archives: Outdoor Experiential Education

The removal of nature from our dictionaries.

The word “beaver” has been removed from Oxford University Press’s Children’s Dictionaries. I heard this on Algonquin Deficit Disorder – Terri LeRoux at TEDxAlgonquinPark.


I was shocked, and then I was angry.

You can find the TEDx Talk at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UNIoyChaJA. But perhaps you shouldn’t watch it. You might get mad. You might walk away from it and try to ignore it – like I did. But then I had to go back to watch it in its entirety. And I’m glad I did; it inspired this blog entry, and a few to follow I’m sure.

So what if they’ve removed beaver, willow, acorn, kingfisher, heron and raven from children’s dictionaries? What’s all the fuss? In reality, each new edition of every dictionary drops dozens of words and adds a bunch of new words and phrases to better represent the current culture. You know – keepin’ up with the times. We wouldn’t want dictionaries to be missing mp3, digital, and countless other new and relevant words and phrases, would we?

And there’s the problem – relevancy.

According to Veneeta Gupta of Oxford University Press, “Changes in the world are responsible for changes in the book.” (This is when I left the TED Talk the first time.) Apparently, I’m a dinosaur. While my kids might agree with that based on my chronological age (and not the nature words I use), it scares me to think that our society is losing its connection with nature. The removal of nature-based words reflects our lack of connection with the natural world.

The Children and Nature Network, http://www.childrenandnature.org/, has been collecting and analysing lots of research. Did you know that most children can no longer identify 10 common plants and animals? If I challenged you to list a variety of tress, plants, flowers, birds, insects, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish, you’d come up with dozens. (Some of you could likely list hundreds!) Not so for today’s youth. They can, however, identify dozens of corporate logos.

Name these brands Name these plants

So it seems that those of us who have an understanding of the ways of nature are becoming extinct. Some would argue that there is no need for concern; this is just a natural progression from total connection with nature in pre-history, through good connection during the agricultural age, to weak connection through the industrial revolution. The next logical step would be no connection to nature in our digital age.

No connection to nature means that we don’t value it. What we don’t value, we won’t protect. So if we have no connection with nature, who will protect it? Those of us who are connected to the natural world know the consequences of disconnection – environmental degradation, and the loss of the earth’s life support system. Since we rely on the natural processes of the earth for survival, we need to ensure our survival by making sure future generations value nature.

In my next blog entry, I’ll share my philosophy on environmental education for our survival.

The importance of getting outdoors

Where do I begin?

Do a Google search for the “importance of getting outdoors.”  About 36 million pages are out there, from everywhere around the globe.

Getting outdoors must be important, then!

The current guru for getting kids outside is Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, and The Nature Principle.  Both of these books are well worth a read.  You can also read his blog at http://www.childrenandnature.org/blog/category/featured/, and watch a short video at http://www.childrenandnature.org/blog/video/.

But the concept is not new.  Others have known and written about this reality for decades, too.

  • “We need the tonic of wildness…” Henry David Thoreau, Walden
  • “Now I see the secret of making the best persons. It is to grow in the open air, and to eat and sleep with the earth.” Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
  • “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.  Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”  John Muir

Here’s a different perspective:

  • “And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

And finally, as an educator, I can relate to this sentiment, (though it’s not exclusively about getting kids outdoors, the outdoors certainly can be the spark):

  • “Do not try to satisfy your vanity by teaching a great many things.  Awaken people’s curiousity.  It is enough to open minds; do not overload them.  Put there just a spark.  If there is some good inflammable stuff, it will catch fire.”  Anatole France

All of these quotes are from a favourite book of mine, The Earth Speaks – An Acclimatization Journal by Steve van Matre and Bill Weiler.  It was published by The Institute for Earth Education in 1983.  (The Institute is currently re-building its website.)  However, you might be able to find a copy of this book elsewhere on the Internet.

So, what do YOU know?  Care to share your thoughts, or what others are saying about the importance of getting outdoors?  I’d like to hear about research into the area, as well as personal anecdotal experiences of significance.  You know – when you had your first “profound” experience outdoors… What was the context?  Where was it?  Were you alone, or with others?  Here’s a chance to tell us all what the outdoors means to you on a personal level.

I’ll start.  When I was in grade eight, our family moved from Windsor to Bracebridge.  It was there that I made my first “spiritual” connection with the earth.  In Windsor, I valued my wanderings through Yawkey Bush, (Now Ojibway Park), and in Bracebridge, I spent hours wandering through the woods of Muskoka.  But one day, while out on a photo expedition, I was laying on my stomach to get an interesting shot of a fern.  I ended up closing my eyes, and putting my face down on the forest floor.  I stayed like that for several minutes, breathing slowly in and out.  Breathing in the earth’s breath.  The rest of the world disappeared.  I melted into the leaves and became part of the growing soil.  I gave myself up to the earth, and became part of her, (you know – Mother Earth…).  I became part of creation in a way I’d never experienced it.  I was filled with peace and contentment.

I’ll never forget the smells of leaves and soil that filled my nose, my lungs.  Writing this reminds me of how simple it is to be at one with the earth.  When I close my eyes now, I can reach a meditative place with no past and no future.  Just the slow breathing in and out of earth’s breath.  Ever-connected to the universe.

Now it’s your turn… What does the outdoors mean to you? Leave a comment, below.

The Reason I’m Doing This…

For those who know me, it should not be surprising that I want to spread the word about the importance of getting our kids outside. After all, I’ve had enough experiences as a teacher, outdoor educator, summer camp staffer/director, ORCKA canoe instructor and tour leader, guide, cross country ski instructor, outdoor experiential education business owner, and – most importantly – parent, to know the value and importance of getting our youth outside.

I’m not going to bore you with a lot of anecdotal evidence of the benefits of spending time outdoors.  Except this one:

  • One recent September, I took my grade 7/8 class out to the schoolyard and adjacent vacant land to do an inventory of species so that we could compare the playground and the early-succession meadow next door. It was a really nice class of really poor listeners… I spent the hour trying to herd cats.  Instructions were useless. The inmates had escaped and were on a rampage.
  • Eventually, with frustration reaching the dangerous point, (dare I say raging anger?), I was finally able to line them up at the door with “weeds” held loosely in their hands. We were to return to class so that we could learn how to prepare and press samples of vegetation. Barely able to control my anger though, I told them to place their samples on the table by the window, sit down, take out their reading books, and not make a sound until I asked for their attention. They knew how angry I was. They followed my directions to the letter.
  • After about fifteen or twenty minutes of blissful silence – other than the sound of turning pages and breathing students – I was calm enough to lead them through a debrief of what was, for me, the worst outdoor learning experience I’d ever led. I told them that. They listened. They understood. After my five minute rant, I asked for their comments. One of the worst offenders as a non-listener, (but still able to collect more than the required minimum number of species), put up his hand and said, “Mr. D., why are you so upset? That was the best science lesson I’ve ever had!”
  • I was floored. Stunned. Speechless. My worst outdoor experience with students was his best science lesson.

Wow. Thirty-five years of taking kids outdoors, and I still had a lot to learn! This wasn’t about the failure of me providing a skill-building lesson on sampling natural environments… it was more about giving an experience to some kids who had little personal experience in the outdoors! For those who had never really looked at the natural world in its natural location, (outdoors…), this experience was awesome. It opened their eyes to the wonders of “the lawn” on the school ground, and “the field” next door.

This experience for me was a poignant reminder that we have to start where the kids are at. Being outdoors with a purpose other than getting from point A to point B is new to many children in our society today. Being outdoors to learn, to play, to have fun… just “to be,” is special because it’s a novelty. We can’t forget that as educators.

So, what about this blog? Why have I started it? That’s simple. My mission is to get kids outdoors more. Whether it happens from a classroom or from a home doesn’t matter. If we spend time with children as their teachers, camp counselors, outdoors educators, and yes – as their parents – we owe it to them to broaden their experiences, their knowledge, and their sense of responsibility for our futures. After all, if we don’t teach them to be stewards of Planet Earth, what will our future look like?

Yes, I want to change the world.  One student-in-the-outdoors at a time.  Are you in?  (Or should I ask, “Are you out?” – as an outdoor educator, of course…)