Article- Ontario Society for Environmental Education

Laurie's article below is published in the Ontario Society for Environmental Education's Interactions, the Ontario E-Journal of Environmental Education


Article 2

Preparing Children, Parents and Educators for the Future with Nature Connection Programs in Ontario Schools

Outdoor Educator/Nature Immersion with Laurie Lynn Clark

Ontario Public schools are now beginning to adopt gradual release Nature Connection Programs to embrace and encourage each student’s natural cycle of learning. The Nature Connection Experiential Learning approach, founded by Jon Young, essentially fosters the resilience of high cognitive functioning in the outdoor classroom. As an alternative to absorbing content delivered at the front of a classroom, nature connection mentorship engages experiential learning as a process of learning through hands-on activities and reflection. “Jon Young, co-founder of the 8 Shields Institute, has established an international network of consultants and trainers working to cultivate effective nature connection mentoring programs in communities and organizations. As the originator of the 8 Shields model, a best-practices process for nature connection mentoring, Jon has implemented vital advancements in the regeneration of nature-based cultural knowledge for the benefit of current and future generations.” (

Nature Connection programs differ from outdoor education curriculum as teachers work towards attribute based nature rich experiences over subject based information rich curriculum. How? Teachers role model experiential learning strategies supported by the art of questioning where they emphasize questions over answers. This approach emphasizes nature rich content and is less focused on information rich subject matter. Meeting the needs and mentoring a diversity of attributes, as opposed to knowledge sets, will prime each mind for intentional learning supported by an inquisitive focus and deepened sense of curiosity.

Teachers role model as mentors through listening and observing the child’s needs and by asking questions coming from a place of authenticity. Engaging the student’s mind with questions encourages them to bring their interests back to the indoor classroom for follow-up and further research. When teachers present themselves as fellow learners through authentic questioning and curiosity, they become an integral part of stimulating the students’ fervour for learning. Teachers also practice authenticity when revealing that they do not have all the answers.

Toronto Star article written by Brandie Weikle; ‘Preparing kids for the future means learning outside the classroom’ ( By Brandie Weikle- Special to the Star/), interviews Guelph Outdoor School Founder- Christopher Green- who brings children outdoors to learn in the invisible classroom. The article also introduces a centrally assigned principal (Felson) who oversees nature immersion experiential learning for the Toronto District School Board.

Guelph Outdoor School Founder, Christopher Green states; “If a child is spending one day a week doing deep nature immersion mentorship and being mentored into connecting with the natural world, then all sorts of magic is going to happen with their other endeavours.”

‘Felson states that these kinds of (nature connection experiential learning) programs are helping to build better workers. “We really feel technological education fits well with our emphasis on those skills employers are looking for,” said Felsen. “Whether it be with traditional technologies, such as automotive or construction, or with new technologies like computer engineering, we think that what’s common is the emphasis on things like problem solving, which is one of the global competencies we’re trying to build. In one recent example, elementary students explored the question of why bees are dying, said Felsen. “The students learned about what plants are from this area that would attract bees. That’s an important part of experiential learning that takes them out of the regular classroom.”