Nature Is My Classroom! (At Least In Canada)


I love this story about children in nature!

At Maple Ridge School in Vancouver, 60 children are without a classroom, but they are fine with that.

That’s because these students, ranging in age from four to 12, are part of a unique experiment in public education that allows school lessons to be delivered in parks, at picnic tables, alongside streams, under tarps and tents, in gardens, libraries, restaurants, fitness centers and even municipal council chambers, when they’re available. But not inside a regular school building.

Environmental School Project

It’s called the Environmental School Project and it’s so unusual that its progress will be monitored throughout this year and into the future by Simon Fraser University researchers, who obtained a $1-million federal grant for that purpose.

From The Vancouver Sun:

School administrator Clayton Maitland said he knows of no similar school anywhere in Canada.

“This is our classroom,” he beamed as he gestured toward the forest during a recent interview in Allco Park, northeast of Maple Ridge city centre.

The concept was approved by the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows board of education last November and quickly attracted enough students for the first year – 60 children from kindergarten to Grade 7 – with more on a waiting list. Maitland hopes enrolment will double next year to 120.

Parents are also expected to be involved with the school — all day, every day if they so desire.

Students Inspired By Activities In Nature

The idea for the school began to percolate in 2008 when Maitland, then vice-principal of Yennadon elementary, and Jodi MacQuarrie, a teacher/librarian at the school who was working on a doctoral degree at Simon Fraser University (SFU), began talking informally about the way the school environment restricts and defines learning and how educators might break out of that box.

They noted that students are often more inspired by activities outside the classroom, such as field trips and camps, but few remember the classroom as being their best educational experience, Maitland added.

They took their idea to SFU, where it captured the interest of educational researchers, and then floated it in the community. Finding support for the concept, the SFU researchers applied and received a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The trustees were the last to climb on board, with a unanimous vote of support late last year.
The school will divide its 60 students into three groups – called families, rather than classes or grades. These families will have 20 students each, from kindergarten to Grade 7.

One or more SFU researchers will be on-site every day — working with the students while also gathering information about their progress, the development of the school and the involvement of parents.

All Kids Need To Be Connected To Nature

This is such a great idea! Inspired by the thought that kids are disconnected from nature, which affects them adversely in so many ways, I wrote a book: Get Out! 150 Easy Ways for Kids and Grown-Ups to Get Into Nature and Build a Greener Future, which many teachers have adopted as a guide for getting their students outdoors.

Let’s hope other school districts get the idea that getting their students outside is a really good idea!

Related Stories

American Kids Need To Be Out There!

Pope Tells Parents And Kids: Get Outside!

Photo Credit: iStock


Sarah Metcalf
Sarah M5 years ago

How cool. America desperately needs this!

Rosemary G.
Rosemary G5 years ago

We would have more well rounded children closer to the real World if we educated them in nature and less obese children as well.

K s Goh
KS Goh5 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Jess Carson
Jess Carson5 years ago

Wow! This would have been a dream come true for me during my school days!! This type of "location" for schooling will have so many benefits and much of the learning that takes place will be surprising and spontaneous : )

Gloria Morotti
Gloria Morotti5 years ago

Making progress..........

Richard Zane Smith

(I'll try comment seems to have be eaten by cyberspace?)
this program sounds great!
sounds a lot like the way we raised and home schooled our kids. We'd be sitting in the mountains eating lunch and i'd say "just think,most kids your age are stuck in a school room somewhere...maybe looking out the window at these mountains?"

Schools are often forced into simply training kids to be a cog in the Industrial Machine.
It might teach nice techie skills,and the present popular mythologies of religion or science,
but are the kids interacting with nature? They can use a smart phone,but can they build a safe fire to keep warm with just a few pieces of wood...without matches? why not? not important? Whats more important learning Calculus or building a fire and making a vessel from clay?
Many nature and survival skills should be bedrock knowledge...before advancing to "higher" head learning.
We're raising a hopelessly grid-based machine dependent generation,because somehow we have this lingering vestigial belief that evolution means steady conquest progression and advancement instead of simply change and adaption.

leanne mcivor
leanne Torio5 years ago

Fantastic - the 'bricks and motar' schools are not working so any alternative is great especially if they teach the children that in Canada our government sanctions animal abuse such as slaughtering our baby seals and putting bounties on our wolves, and sport hunting our polar bears ($30G) for a adult male, over hunting and fishing - educating our future Canadians that the 'world is watching and will no longer tolerate animal abuse' and that Stephen Harper (PM) should get his greedy hands out of the pockets of killing our wildlife! Power to the new generation to make our beautiful country animal abuse free!

Marjaana V.
marjaana v5 years ago

in don't know if you could call it the same country.... vancouver is as far west as can get, while the seals are clubbed on the east coast.;..

seemingly regardless of what people tell harpoon - harper.

Atudorquene E.
Atudorquene E5 years ago

Is this the same Canada that slaughters baby seals and is planning a huge cull of adult seals? I just don't understand the dichotomy...

Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton5 years ago

Interesting article - thanks for posting.