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Step Outside For Learning

Gibson DSC_0228 (2)

Originally appears in the Winter 2010-2011 issue

Is it science? Is it language arts? Is it environmental studies?  Yes and no. It’s integrated learning in an outdoor setting with student-led inquiry as part of the mix. That`s the current framework for learning at Belfountain Public School in Caledon, Ontario, a small, rural school with 170 students and 10 full time teaching staff.   How we got started and where our journey led is an organic story.

Four years ago, we simply agreed to do more of our learning outside.  Armed with Richard Louv`s book Last Child in the Woods and a group of supportive  parent advocates,  our vision was to help students connect to nature and grow into educated stewards of the earth.   That vision developed over the course of several meetings with parents, teachers, school administration and staff from a local outdoor education centre.  Funds were found to support a one year pilot project with my grade sixes and the grade twos.  Staff from the outdoor education centre were contracted to provide the pilot teachers with in-class support one day a week, and help with outdoor learning ideas.

As the pilot teacher, I`d like to share with you what it looked like then, where that idea has taken us and what it looks like now. Perhaps illuminating our path at Belfountain will help us all to `Step Outside For Learning`, that first giant step on the journey towards using the outdoors as the vehicle for teaching and learning the mandated curriculum.

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Pamela Gibson, Bryan Bibby Smith and Janice Haines all teach at Belfountain School in Caledon, Ontario.  In May 2010, Belfountain School won the Outstanding K-12 School award given out annually by the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication.