Sunday, September 14, 2014

Enhance your child's learning with Outdoor Education

British Columbia is in the midst of a full scale teacher strike that began June 17, 2014.  This meant an abrupt end to school in June and no back to school yet for kids in BC Public schools.  So many parents, me included, are coping with the situation and are doing our best to offer some education to our children as we wait for a settlement to be reached.  Having children at the primary school age makes it a bit more manageable for me.  No provincial exams to worry about, no concern over credits earned, and no calculus to teach.  I will leave that to the professionals.  What I am able to offer my children is a “classroom” style learning I know well. Outdoor Education. 

Outdoor education by definition is learning that takes place outdoors.  I have said numerous times and is a favorite quote of mine, “Nature is the largest classroom you or your child will ever experience.”  So many times I have seen Ben and Liv learn and grow through our outdoor experiences, and not just physically.  The outdoors offer a wealth of education; science, social studies, english and math. The best part is, the learning is fun and exciting! 

Any outdoor experience has the ability to offer education. It could be a hike in a forest, a weekend camping trip, or a stroll through your local park.  My story involves biking on an island that is a marine provincial park but the location and activity can easily be replaced with your activity of choice in an area close to you.  Every place has history.  Seeing new images ignites imagination and creativity.  The ground we walk on is science; natural or man-made.  And you say you're not a math person? Chances are you had to obey speed limits, purchase something or check the time during said outdoor adventure.  Basic math at work. 

Outdoor Education - Newcastle Island

Newcastle Island, located in the Nanaimo Harbour, is accessible by foot passenger ferry or by your own watercraft of choice.  Once on Newcastle Island, a marine provincial park, visitors have over 22 km of trails to explore by foot or bike, beaches around every corner, campsites, picnic areas and endless nature.  We chose to bike on Newcastle Island and it was easy to transport the bikes onboard the Nanaimo Harbour Ferry.  

All Aboard!

Clearly physical education was going to play a large role throughout the day but we were here to learn! (Actually, having fun was the goal.)

Social Studies: Before European discovery, the Snuneymuxw First Nation inhabited the island, primarily from January to April, to easily access the herring that spawned in the area.  In August, they would return to the island and catch salmon and shellfish.  

The island was named after a mining town in England, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, by the British once coal was discovered in 1849 on the island and around Nanaimo.  The coal discovery alone holds many historical stories, one being a gas explosion that claimed the lives of three miners and the tunnels that connect Newcastle to Protection Island and Gabriola Island.  In 1869, sandstone and pulp stone quarries replaced coal mining. The sandstone was a highly sought after building material.  

Then in 1920, herring salteries were the main activity on Newcastle, until four of them burnt down.  In 1931, the island was purchased and used by Canadian Pacific Steamship Co. as a pleasure resort until WWII created a decline in ships available and a decline in the islands popularity resulted.  Quite the variety of historical moments on an island that is 306 hectares in size.  The most interesting story, and one the kids seemed to be most interested in was the story of Peter Kakua.  

The past has some interesting stories.

Science: We already learned that Newcastle Island has plenty of sandstone, which crosses over nicely from social studies to science.  So many natural resources, rock and fish, on one little island.  There is a wide range of diverse habitats on Newcastle Island.  Ocean, forest and lakes all come into play on Newcastle.  Having the fresh water from Mallard Lake is what allowed so many different people to inhabit the island.  The lake provided a source of water.  Today it is a wildlife sanctuary and it is beautiful.  

In the few hours we were on Newcastle Island we saw racoons, a pileated woodpecker, shorebirds, and waterfowl.  Beach-combing added many more species to the list.  Crabs, seagulls, jellyfish, barnacles, and sculpins just to name a few.

Hands on learning with the jellyfish

English: Being a provincial park, Newcastle has plenty of interpretive signs, information notices, trail signs and maps throughout.  It starts with the welcome to Newcastle Island sign.  (Kids noted “Is” on the sign, short for Island.) 

Our visit to Newcastle Island was with friends and between the two families, several of us had been to the island before.  Memories of past visits were sparked with familiar sights which was followed by storytelling.  New stories were developing. 

Math: The ferry boat holds 12 passengers.  There were seven in our group.  How many more passengers could hop on-board? Seven bikes plus seven people equals? Pretty easy to work math into any situation.  Trail maps are great opportunities to use math skills.  

Adding up the total distance between two points or a cumulative distance total of trails used was a neat interactive way to engage the kids.  Perfect for primary aged kids. 

The learning aspect of the day was subtle. A little bit of information here and there in amongst the sunshine, the trail riding, and taking in the beautiful views.  After writing down everything, I was surprised with what we all learned.  It certainly does not replace the education that kids receive in school but it does enhance their learning opportunities.  And because of that, I will never leave the outdoor classroom!

Riding the bus back home

Shots of the Day

For more photos of Newcastle Island, please view the entire photo album on Facebook - Newcastle Island, BC


  1. I totally agree. Being outdoors is the best education. You can always find ways help your children learn and grow. Hope the teachers strike ends soon.

    1. Thanks Mae, teachers finally reached a deal so school should be back on next week.