Guelph-Humber ECE Students Take on Nature!

On March 7, 2016, members of York Region Nature Collaborative had the pleasure of meeting four students from the Early Childhood Studies program at the University of Guelph-Humber.  Adriana Mercuri, Melissa Pohland, Alisha ParJohn and Karandeep Singh were led on a hike by YRNC's chair, Diane Kashin, along the Oak Ridges Moraine in Richmond Hill, with stops at the Swan Lake Centre for Innovation and Conservation, as well as at Lake St. Field Centre.  At Lake St. George, the group also met with Nicole Hamley, teacher and YRNC Executive Committee member (Communications).  Here is what the students shared after their experiences with us:

Our Experience with York Region Nature Collaborative


Sounds_in_the_Woods_reduced.jpgEarly Childhood Educators (ECEs) can create an endless road of opportunities for children. This was the first thing that came to mind walking along the long dirt path on our adventure with Diane Kashin of the York Region Nature Collaborative (YRNC).  Exploring the beauty of nature with Diane as she showed us the sites that YRNC uses for workshops that provide ECEs with experiences in nature got me thinking about my future career in ECE. I began to realize the importance of nature in the healthy development of children. Today, educators may be reluctant to take children outside to play in nature in a unstructured way due to several different reasons; they fear that it may be more difficult to supervise all the children and they may be worried about the weather. This should not be the case. Mother Nature is full of many wonders and that is what makes it so beautiful. The unexpectedness of the weather or of what the children will find outdoors is what makes learning interesting and diverse.

Most often, children are given toys that are already made to play with, however, through play in nature, the children are given the opportunity to think creatively and create their very own toy, instrument, or material. Play in the outdoors is very open-ended compared to play indoors. Outside, educators are also learning, which makes it easier for them to actively participate with the children and engage in the learning process. By learning about new things, educators are better able to expand their understanding of nature, and use what they learned to further children’s understanding and development.

Throughout our walk, I encountered a beautiful instrument made with sticks. It was explained that one of the educators in a workshop created this xylophone with different sizes of sticks. This really caught my attention because it was really beautiful and creative. Overall, I am amazed at how many different learning possibilities and opportunities there are in nature. The children can explore their surroundings and each other as they go on new adventures; even if the children are in the same area, each and every day they are still given an opportunity to learn something new. 


snowy_forest_trail.jpgEarly Childhood Educators (ECEs) play a vital role in the healthy development of our youngest aged children. Growing up in a generation where everything seems to be technology-based can create a barrier between being able to balance both indoor and outdoor experiences for children. As a future educator, I myself realize how important nature is, as I spent most of my days as a young child either playing soccer, hanging off monkey bars at the park, or just going for long walks with my grandmother, embracing the fresh air. As an ECE in training, I know how important my role is in providing outdoor learning experiences for children; children are able to explore freely, problem-solve and become creative thinkers in a more hands-on way compared to being in a classroom setting or on a computer.

Unfortunately, it may be hard for educators to be creative with children outdoors, as children in child care centres are fenced into their playground area and parents may have a fear of their children getting “hurt”. In addition, ECEs may not have the proper training needed in order to facilitate early learning outdoors, so they become scared/less confident.

ECEs have the skills to change the lives of these young children. It is important that a love of nature is modeled for children. It is crucial for ECEs to support children when in nature. Children will learn to love nature and learn to protect it. I believe all ECEs should want to become more knowledgeable about facilitating early learning outdoors, as it is key to maintaining their healthy development. By increasing levels of activity, by using more loose parts (open-ended materials) and by decreasing levels of down time in front of screens, we will make a huge change in children’s lives. 


In world full of technology and the World Wide Web, children are spending less time outdoors playing with natural materials provided by Mother Nature. Growing up as a child, I enjoyed spending time playing outside. As a student in the early childhood program at Guelph Humber, we learn why it is important for children to play outdoors, but never actually see children in our placement sites playing with nature. Children who play in nature will develop the appreciation for it. Children that are not having the opportunity to play in nature will not develop a sense of respect towards natural materials, animals and insects found outdoors.

As a student in the early childhood program, I had the opportunity to visit the Humber Arboretum to learn about the importance of nature play for children. I also had the opportunity to learn about the York Region Nature Collaborative. Children learn about seasons, problem solving skills, consequences, weather, animals, habitats, etc just from playing outdoors with nature. A child noticing that the leaves on the trees would change a different colour and fall off learned that when this happened, this was a sign that winter was near. Activities like making art with materials found in nature, finding different leaves, looking for alphabets in nature, naming animals and insects found in nature, etc are wonderful activities that early childhood educators can implement into their daycare curriculum. Early childhood educators can also bring nature into the classroom like sand, plants and sticks and have the children actively explore these materials. ECEs that need help with incorporating nature into their programs should visit the Humber Arboretum and participate in events hosted by the York Region Nature Collaborative. ECEs will learn how to provide positive experiences in the natural world. Educators that promote positive experiences with nature will set children up for a lifelong care and appreciation for Mother Earth, animals and communities.


Early Childhood Educators play an integral role in the healthy development of young children. Outdoor activities build on children's skills in all domains of development, as well as providing potential for them to grow. “There has been growth of the idea that the outdoor environment can be more than a place to burn off steam, with more educators and architects and designers embracing the ideas that outdoor play space provides chances for the highest level of development and learning. When used best, it can be a place for investigation, exploration and social interaction" Child Care Canada, Bringing the Outdoors into Early Childhood Education.

We learned on our walk with Diane that when it comes to the outdoors, there is no such thing as bad weather like rain and snow, only bad clothing. Forests or other natural parts of the environment can be the classroom, a natural way for children to discover the world around them. 

Allowing children to spend time outside to identify with nature can result in boosting physical and mental health, as well as gaining self-confidence and respect for the world around them. This is not the case in Canada. In its review of Canada's early childhood education, it was noted that "where outdoor space is concerned, the quality of the yards attached to centers is often poor in Canada, a country with much land space available" Child Care Canada, Bringing the Outdoors into Early Childhood Education.

It is very important that ECEs and ECE students become aware of the importance of play in nature. It is great that the YRNC has so many workshops and conferences, including the Play and Nature Summit at Black Creek Pioneer Village, to provide learning experiences for adults to help support nature experiences for children.  ECE students who want to attend this conference can apply for a scholarship to attend for free!

We learned during our walk with Diane, and when meeting with Nicole, that advocating for outdoor play experiences outside children's gated playgrounds will make all the difference, as children will be able to grow up learning the environment does matter and if we continue to appreciate it and take care of it, we will be protecting the future of our earth.

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The York Region Nature Collaborative wishes to extend sincere thanks to Adriana, Melissa, Alisha and Karandeep for taking the time to meet with us and helping us in our mission to empower the early learning communities of York Region to engage meaningfully with nature on a daily basis. 






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