The Great Outdoors

Horsefly students get set to walk the new Gavin Lakeshore Trail with Jenny Howell.

Horsefly students get set to walk the new Gavin Lakeshore Trail with Jenny Howell.


The weather was miserable for most of day one. The rain began to fall soon after we arrived and didn’t stop for the next four or five hours. Most of the students had appropriate rain gear, and those that didn’t donned black garbage bags with holes ripped out for their arms and heads. Rain-soaked activities included a nature walk, a game of “Camouflage” and orienteering. Perhaps not surprising, hardly a complaint could be heard.

The setting was the Gavin Lake Forest Education Centre. Doing my best to put in the big rocks first, I took two vacation days this past week to be a parent chaperone on my youngest son’s two-day class trip to the district’s popular outdoor education destination. Joining Mrs. Stewart’s and Mrs. Smith’s Cataline Elementary classes on the overnight excursion was another good reminder for me how important it is to move our teaching and learning outside more than we do.

Upon returning home, my son did not want to remove his "camo" paint until the whole family had seen it.

Upon returning home, my son did not want to remove his “camo” paint until the whole family had seen it.

While I did my best to take my Superintendent hat off and just be a dad, it was hard not to notice a few things from an educator's point of view.

1. The students were consistently engaged – With so much of the learning being active and hands-on, even those who might be reluctant participants in a classroom environment were absorbed in the various activities. Writing activities were structured around the physical activities which kept those reluctant writers engaged at those times too.

Writing activities were completed outside.  What could be more glorious?

Writing activities were completed outside. What could be more glorious?

2. Student behaviour was excellent – We know that student engagement and student behaviour go hand in hand. If students care about what they are learning and can make personal connections and discoveries, they are far less likely to get distracted or be a distraction to others. In spite of the less than wonderful weather conditions, students were happy and behaving themselves.

3. Movement and physical activity enhance academic learning – When our hearts are pumping and our blood is flowing, we are all more likely to have our brains in gear. A thirty-minute hike at 7:30am on Wednesday set the tone for the rest of the morning. Imagine if all of our students started every day with a thirty-minute hike and a healthy breakfast before we expected their "academic" learning to begin. It is for this reason that some of our classrooms and schools start their days with a vigorous walk.

4. The natural environment makes a fantastic classroom – It was the perfect recipe. Start with a calm and glassy lake surrounded by leafy yellow trees at this time of the year in the Cariboo. Mix in a moment when the students all raced to the mess hall windows, spotting two moose across the lake on Tuesday at suppertime. Top it off with a sprinkling of sun peeking through the dense fog over the lake on Wednesday morning. In the end, the rain dampened very few spirits.

I'm having trouble seeing these students due to the fact they are blending so well into the background.

I’m having trouble seeing these students due to the fact they are blending so well into the background.

There is a group of teachers in School District No. 27 who would love to have our district become known for our outdoor education programs. These teachers have begun meeting, including on September's Pro-D Day, to discuss ways that we can do a better job of sharing about all of the opportunities available to teachers. They have also met with District Staff and with the Board's Education Committee to discuss ways we can make it easier for teachers to take their classes outside (i.e. policy changes, bus costs, less paperwork, etc.)

These teachers know what they are talking about. They know about Scout Island, Gavin Lake, and Educo Adventure School. They also know the geography all around our schools. From Bridge Lake to Tatla Lake, Likely to Naghtaneqed, and Dog Creek to Big Lake, we have so many beautiful locations to choose from. If you’d like to get involved with this group of teachers, please send me an e-mail, and I’ll connect you.

Finally, I leave you with a very comrehensive list I received from Horsefly School’s Grades 3-6 class about all that they learned while on their recent journey to Gavin Lake as part of the Grade 6 school program.

The Things We Learned at Gavin Lake:
 How to use a compass
 How to properly use a bow and arrow
 How to use a map to navigate
 How to tell the age of a tree using a tree borer or counting rings
 How to read weather equipment
 How to play the mummy game
 How to properly go backpacking
 How a helicopter is used to help pick cones (saw this on the way home!)
 How to make new friends
 How to protect food from bears when camping
 How to deal with wet clothes when camping
 How to put up a tent
 How to have fun
 Only use the water you really need
 Composting is important
 Not everything we throw away should be thrown away
 The importance of wetlands, such as marshes
 What you need to have to go camping
 Boil water from a lake or stream before drinking it
 If everyone helps with chores, chores go faster
 Dryer lint makes great fire starter
 Willow can help a headache or stomach ache
 Fog in the morning means it will likely be a nice day
 You can eat every part of a cattail
 Yellow lily seeds can be popped like popcorn
 Charlie and Chester (the camp dogs) are awesome but sleep most of the day
 Gavin Lake is 80 feet deep in the middle
 Just say “Yes, Mike”
 Gavin Lake and the people there are fun
 The people who work at Gavin Lake have the best job ever

Horsefly's  grades 3-6 class learned a lot in a recent trip to Gavin Lake.

Horsefly’s grades 3-6 class learned a lot in a recent trip to Gavin Lake.

If you have a story to share regarding how you or your school uses the great outdoors as a learning environment, please write a comment below.

I invite feedback and comments to any of my blog entries. As the administrator of the blog, I approve all comments before they hit the public domain. While I do not mind comments that disagree with my point of view, I will not post comments that I deem to be inappropriate, those which are personal attacks, or those which refer to specific personnel. I also will not post comments from anonymous or nicknamed sources. While one of my goals for this blog is open a dialogue, it needs to be a safe environment for everyone involved. Thanks for considering this before making a comment. – Mark

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Categories: Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “The Great Outdoors

  1. Beth

    Years ago Keith Rumble knew that physical activity would help them concentrate and he instituted a morning run. My sons both loved it! They didn’t get fidgety before recess and then recess came and they were outside running again. I think that is why the students at Mountview scored so high when he was at the helm

  2. Frances McCoubrey

    The intermediate class from the districts Distance Education program have been investigating how connections are important to our local ecosystems. We have utilized several outdoor classrooms so far to do this including Gavin Lake, The Knife Creek Mule Deer Research Forest and the Williams Creek River Valley. Students participated in a variety of activities while visiting these sites including exploratory games, writing lessons and observational drawing. I hope to further use the connections theme outside to engage students in the parts of the curriculum focused on healthy relationships, writing, oral language and visual arts. Students continue to tell us how much they enjoy outdoor classrooms and have been asking if we can go to school at Gavin Lake everyday!

  3. Ashleigh Stewart

    I am not a teacher and only a new mom (my daughter is 8 months old) but I have to strongly agree that being outdoors can enhance a child’s learning. I have noticed, and am sad that I have noticed, that students are spending less and less time outside and more time inside watching TV or playing video games. I try and make a point of taking my daughter outside everyday – whether its just to play with her on a swing in the backyard or for a long walk. More teachers need to “think outside the classroom” and participate in outdoor activities. Education needs to be adaptable to better suit a child’s needs and nothings better than some fresh air and sunshine (or rain). I bet their students will be more successful. I can only hope that my daughter will get a creative teacher once she reaches that age.

  4. Steve Carpenter

    Here at Lac La Hache we were fortunate to attend both Gavin Lake and Educo in the last few weeks and let me tell you, everything you said about engaged students in outdoor education is right on the money. We are off to an outdoor classroom tomorrow as my noon hour supervisor informed me on Monday there is a creek just up Timothy Lake road full of spawning Salmon. The great thing about a small school is I was able to organize parents for permission and rides in only a couple of days and we are off to see the Salmon and talk about the life cycle in our great outdoors. Fresh air, real fish swimming around instead of pictures in a book and full engagement, education doesn’t get any better!

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