Through its Nature Days program, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is creating opportunities for city kids to explore the natural world. Launched in 2012 in partnership with HSBC Bank Canada, Nature Days turns NCC’s protected areas into living classrooms where children learn firsthand about forests, wetlands, streams and other natural environments, says Erica Thompson, senior director for national conservation engagement and development.
“We provide children with a real-life experience in nature reserves where they can see, touch, feel and learn about the kind of world that exists close to where they live, but which they may not get many opportunities to visit,” says Thompson. “A lot of concepts are challenging to grasp in the classroom, but they become immediately accessible when you’re standing in a wetland with a knowledgeable NCC staff member who can explain, demonstrate and answer questions.”
The program couldn’t have come soon enough for Genvieve Adams, a Grade 3 teacher at John Norquay Elementary in Vancouver. “Before we went on the trip I asked the kids how many of them had been to the forest before and only half of them put up their hands,” she says.
Adams’ students were transported up to the Cheakamus Centre – a field school and environmental studies facility located on 420 acres (170 hectares) of ecological reserve in Paradise Valley just north of Vancouver – for a day to learn about the life cycle of salmon. In addition to “having a blast,” Ms. Adams says her students’ hands-on experience helped them retain what they learned. “The best part was when they were able to actually touch the salmon that were ready to be released and the fish were all flipping and splashing.”
Adams says the experience not only reinforces curriculum, but it also helps introduce students to the importance of the natural environment. “It’s one thing to tell children they need to protect the environment – that it isn’t there just for us – but they understand the concept much better when they can see and learn about the plants and animals we share the planet with. I really hope in the future that all the children in the school can have experiences like this.”
Nature Days programs are currently being offered in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.