Outdoor Education – let’s go camping!

A month ago I got to accompany our students on their winter camping trip for the Outdoor Education class. I’m a big camper; we go canoe-camping for anywhere from 5 to 12 days at a time each summer. But I had never gone winter camping until I did so with the school 2 years ago.

Winter camping involves a lot of layers. Some good muscles to shovel snow to build your quinzhee (the snow shelter you sleep in). Good food. Lots of firewood. A positive attitude.

The school where I teach is very multicultural. I am the minority in my classroom usually as a white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed person. Walking down our halls you are likely to hear many different languages being spoken, including Arabic, Somali, and Nepali. Our school is one of 3 high schools in the city with an ELD program for new Canadians, some of them with schooling gaps due to circumstances such as being in refugee camps. Many of our students do not have the chance to go camping with their families on summer break. In fact many students I speak to tell me they spend very little time outside the city in nature.

So I really love that our students can take Outdoor Ed as a credit in high school. They must participate in at least 2 of the 3 yearly trips (plus additional day field trips). Unlike some other schools where students have – or can borrow from family & friends – a lot of camping gear, we have a large room full of bought & donated gear. Not only do we just have the tents and sleeping bags they’ll need, but also the quick-dry clothing, snowpants, and winter boots, etc.

My colleague who teaches the course spends weeks before the first trip in fall (hiking) teaching students the basics of what to pack, what to wear, what to eat, how to cook it, & how to leave no trace. I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying “Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I will remember. Involve me, and I will understand forever.”. So much is learned while “doing” in this course.

This year’s group of students were particularly great, adaptable to the outdoor elements with a positive attitude (for many, only their 2nd camping trip ever). I love getting to know the students outside of the classroom environment. I love watching them as they learn to love and respect the outdoors, spend time away from screens and connect with each other.

Our to other trips are a fall hiking trip and a spring canoe trip:

If you’re a teacher and get the chance to supervise one of the outdoor ed trips, I highly suggest it! Even if you’re not a seasoned camper yourself, it makes a great introduction to camping for you too. You’ll learn so much about your students! Encourage the students at your school – and any other teens in your life – to take Outdoor Ed. I wish I had done so in high school. My first real camping experience (beyond car-camping) was as a teacher with Outdoor Ed myself. Also, consider donating outdoor gear, clothing and/or money to an Outdoor Ed program in your area to help them support students that don’t have the money or equipment to outfit themselves.

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)