News / Vancouver

Lessons from nature in the city

Outdoor-focused educational movement promotes nature play and urban learning to promote social responsibility.

A group of preschoolers immersed in nature.

Muddy Boot Prints / Courtesy

A group of preschoolers immersed in nature.

A new kind of outdoor-focused educational movement is cropping up around Vancouver, one equally concerned with nature play and urban learning.

It’s a trend that’s taking root in almost every neighbourhood: a desire to immerse children in the environment while teaching them to be good urban citizens.

For Belva Stone, director of Muddy Boot Prints, the goal is to connect children with the natural and urban environments and social responsibility. By exploring the city on public transit, and joining forces with environmental organizations and local businesses with similar values, Stone helps the children build lasting connections to the city in which they live.

She noted Vancouver’s proximity to a diverse range of parks makes it an ideal city for nature-based play. Many of the parks “have so much more than just a playground—forested areas, creeks and ponds that are host to a wide array of wildlife to learn about and play in.”

At Fresh Air Learning in North Vancouver, children are immersed in the forest, learning about and exploring the natural environment. Soaring Eagle Nature School also uses the forest as classroom, and students roam through places like Pacific Spirit Park. Stanley Park’s Out and About Adventures is inspired by the forest school ethos, adapted to an urban park setting.

Three times a year, children at Muddy Boot Prints meet at a Skytrain station, ride the train and give out small gifts in hopes of making people’s days a bit brighter, said Stone.

“This is a wonderful way to teach children about compassion and empathy through observation of how giving makes them feel. It’s a heartwarming sight when bustling men in business suits melt at the sight of preschool aged children giving them candy.”

The busyness of urban life is tempered by this new approach to education.

“We aim to slow down the pace while the children are with us, give them time to play and just be.”

They share space at Trillium Park with an environmental arts group, working with local plants and learning and learning about both their beauty and their function through eco prints from plants and natural dyeing. The children have also started to visit Three Links Care Centre every other week, joining senior residents for activities.

The combination of nature play and civic engagement helps kids develop a strong sense of self confidence and resiliency. It engages all their senses, and can lead to a sense of self discovery, said Stone.

”When their imaginations are sparked, they begin to play. And when they’re playing, they’re learning.”

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