A student from École des Deux Mondes (EDM) creates a work of art from leaves and sticks she finds along the side of the ERT road on Wednesday afternoon.

Taking education into nature

Take Me Outside Day is a national campaign to celebrate getting kids out into nature

If you were walking the ERT road on Wednesday shortly after noon, you would have run into quite a sight.

Right there in the middle of the road when you came around a bend, you would have seen a huge group of brightly-clad children laughing and playing in the leaves, sticks and moss that lines that trail.

They were from École des Deux Mondes (EDM), just up the trail a little way, and they were taking part in Take Me Outside Day, a national campaign which began in 2011 to celebrate getting kids out into nature and is gathering steam.

Last year more than 1,000 schools and 200,000 students took part in the celebration. The day commemorates the end of founder Colin Harris’ cross-Canada run from St. John’s, Nfld. to Victoria, during which he stopped at 80 schools to spread the word about the importance of finding a better balance between the amount of time they spend outside and the time they spend in front of screens.

Last year was also the first year EDM participated in Take Me Outside, “and we just sort of stayed on the school grounds,” says kindergarten teacher Barbara Vachon. “We have a forested area behind our school and we go out on a daily basis and spend time out there. We’ve been getting more and more into it, and last year we joined Take Me Outside as part of that.”

This year they decided to venture a little farther afield.

The idea was to head out onto the popular walking trail and make some art using what they found along the way to leave for others to enjoy after they’d left.

But what they actually did while they were out there was less important than the act of just getting out and doing it.

“Today is just to help get the awareness out there that kids need to be outside playing more and not so much inside on their computers and watching TV,” Vachon says.

It’s something they live by every day at EDM, she says.

“We do a lot of learning outside. We do a lot of math, a lot of patterning, and I do all of my science curriculum outside now. Rather than looking at pictures and reading about it or watching a movie, we’re actually out there doing it,” she says, which makes the concepts much more concrete for the students.

She also think it’s something parents should be able to understand, and wishes they would celebrate it more often, as well.

“My generation, when we were younger, we would be outside playing,” she says, but kids these days simply aren’t accessing their natural surroundings as much.

“They’re being driven to daycare or school, they get picked up, they have supper, sit around inside for a while and then it’s bedtime,” Vachon says. “They don’t get that connection with nature – that chance to just go play outside.”

Outside play and learning time, Vachon says, also breaks down some barriers between students, when they do it together.

“When they’re in the classroom, the boys tend to gather and play blocks and Lego and the girls are colouring and doing their things, but when we’re out playing in the forest, everyone just plays together, and it’s great.”

And Vachon thinks it adds to students’ learning in other ways, as well.

“Physically, they’re a lot calmer in the classroom when they’ve been outside for a while,” she says, which allows them to focus and learn better during inside, classroom-based lessons.

To learn more about Take Me Outside Day and the benefits of getting out into nature with kids, visit takemeoutside.ca