Most Canadian parents and guardians will be familiar with the perils of a pandemic school year spent between home and school. With virtual learning becoming the norm this year in private and public schools - and so many families staying at home - outdoor time is much needed this summer. Studies have shown that the pandemic has created new mental health issues for kids as they experience social isolation and the cancellation of important events: anxiety, depression, irritability, shorter attention spans, and hyperactivity are some of the behaviours that have been spurred during this time.

a girl sits in a field with a horse
Get your kids out and exploring nature this summer. Source: Unsplash.

Outdoor learning matters more than ever this year for kids thanks to the long and seemingly endless pandemic shutdown of schools and leisure activities, with hours spent staring at screens. We may not want to admit it, but much of our kids’ regular learning has been lost due to the circumstances of the pandemic. Learners today are distracted by videos, games, side chats, while also being forced to experience the world through a digital landscape. Outdoor learning enables kids to develop science, math, language, geography and other important skills in an engaging and meaningful way.  Whether through cottage time, camping, family hikes, or day camps, it’s time to get our kids off the internet and into the great outdoors to learn.

Read our latest article on how to keep your child practicing math all summer long.

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What is Outdoor Learning?

Outdoor learning is the transformation of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviours that occurs when intentionally engaging with the outdoor environment. Outdoor learning is experiential in nature, which enables students to develop enduring understandings about the connectedness of living things. Children learn through hands-on, project-based activities based on environmental problems, field trips, and outdoor classrooms. Outdoor learning is also one of the most easy, budget friendly ways to enrich your child’s learning, though you can sign your kids up for a camp if you choose not to do it on your own. Outdoor or environmental education is meaningful because it is grounded in experiential learning, problem solving, cooperative activities that keep your child engaged in different natural environments.

Outdoor learning is important because it enables kids to learn about environmental stewardship and feel more connected with their own communities. No, you don’t have to be on an Okanagan lake, on a drive through Banff, or in a glamorous Muskoka cottage to enjoy the outdoors. While having a team of educators is nice, you as a parent or guardian is best suited to be your child's outdoor educator. Outdoor learning is everywhere, whether you are in a large city like Toronto or Vancouver or a small town or suburb. Fresh air and sunshine are everywhere in Canada, and you’ll find plenty of outdoor spaces to help your child become more aware of the natural world.

This article explores the best ways to support your child’s learning through their natural surroundings - let’s get started!

a child explores a forest.
Support your child's learning by immersing them in the natural world. Source: Unsplash.

The Best Ways to Support Your Child in Outdoor Learning this Summer

Don’t Forget the Essentials

When you are planning to spend time outdoors with your kids, it’s important not to forget the basics: the correct gear, sunblock, and bug spray can be your best friends! It’s projected to be a hot summer in Canada, so make sure you and your kids have hats and light clothing, including long sleeved shirts and pants. Light clothing that provides maximum coverage will not only protect your skin from the sun, but block ticks and other bugs. Having the right shoes is important too - while summer may seem like a great time for sandals, hiking shoes and heavier sneakers will give you and your kids the support you need for tackling tougher terrain and walking over unpaved land.

If your plan includes going into woods and fields, remember the bug spray to avoid mosquitoes, flies, and ticks. Lyme disease is present in Canada, so protect yourself and your children from having unwanted interactions with insects. Check your kids for ticks after time outdoors, and have kids allergy medication handy in case they have a reaction to a bug or plant. Of course - any extended time outdoors will require snacks and water: make some trail mix before heading out to keep energized.

Have your kids been affected by virtual learning? Learn our tips for supporting their social and emotional development.

Use Your Local Surroundings

You don’t have to leave your community to engage in outdoor learning. In fact, the best outdoor learning your child can do is close to home, as it will help your kids feel more connected and protective of the place they live. If you have a backyard, dig around to look for plants that grow naturally, bugs, and other local critters. If you have space for a garden, make your kids part of the planting process so they can see what roots look like, and learn how to water and care for plants. No yard? No problem. Get some planters and soil to plant seeds on your balcony or a window, and see if they grow. You can also explore local parks - take a step beyond the basketball courts and playgrounds to do some discovery.

children play at a playground
Enjoy the outdoors in your local community. Source: Unsplash.

Through lots of exploration around your community, you and your kids will surely find plenty of life, from plants breaking through concrete to birds nests and local gardens.

Find Great Hikes in National or Provincial Parks

Looking for adventure? Drive out to one of Canada’s many national or provincial parks to get your family seeing some spectacular scenery that you may not have even known existed. Gros Morne, Thousand Islands, Gapesie, Cape Breton Highlands, Mont Tremblant, Jasper, Yoho, Banff, and Pacific Rim are just a handful of Canada’s most spectacular national parks. Provincially, you will find even more - do a Google search in your province to learn more!

outdoor education in national parks
Enjoy Canada's beauty in national parks like Banff. Source: Unsplash.

Larger parks are amazing ways to interpret nature and learn all about local species to Canada. They are selected for their exceptional natural beauty, and many contain lookouts, waterfalls, beaches, and clearly marked hikes that your whole family will enjoy. Algonquin Park in Ontario, for example, will provide you with guides to long and short trails, as well as information on how challenging they will be to walk. Nearly every park will have beautiful areas where you can have a picnic, including sheltered areas that provide shade. Warning - the bathrooms are not always the best smelling or cleanest, so don’t forget the sanitizer and wipes!

Look for Outdoor Camps

Camps with an outdoor learning focus are a powerful way to get your child learning all about their natural surroundings. These camps are developed with an outdoor curriculum in mind that covers Science, Social Studies, and Language. Historically, many outdoor camp experiences have had a sleepaway component where kids are provided room and board in cabins, but if they aren’t available in your province due to pandemic restrictions you can surely find a day camp near you.

Advantages of camps are that they will provide your kids with much needed socialization time with other children and a degree of independence they have lost from being at home for so long, not to mention hands-on activities that take eyes off screens. They also teach kids leadership and environmental stewardship, skills that can have a lifelong impact.

Pull out the Bicycles

If walking for long periods of time doesn’t quite jive with your family, then it’s time to pull the bikes out for some extra outdoor fun. Expand your horizons by getting a bike rack on your car to ride through trails a little further off from home; or get some exercise in and bike all the way to your destination. Biking is a great way to experience the outdoors in a way that is exciting and interactive, especially for kids that have a lot of energy and crave the adrenaline rush. Grab some mountain bikes to explore hilly terrain - don’t forget your helmets!

Want to keep your child reading and writing over the summer? Read our article on maintaining literacy over the summer.

Complement Outdoor Learning with Tutoring

Why not make your summer outdoors extra educational with some supplementary tutoring? If you want to keep your kids’ learning skills sharp, make up for learning loss, or simply get ahead, tutoring is a great summer idea. Find a fantastic natural science tutor who can guide your child through a personalized study of biology, or simply get a general math or language tutor that can work on core skills. The balance of regular outdoor activity and academic learning will keep your kids busy all summer.

Online tutoring
Support summer learning with a tutor. Source: Pexels

Tutors near you can be found on sites like Superprof, where hundreds of Canadian tutors can be found. A tutor can work with your child when it is convenient for your family, and focus on specific skills. Use your child’s second term report card to determine what your child needs most, or simply call your child’s teacher for a conference.

Find the best tutor for your child on Superprof today!

Find out why summer learning is more important than ever for your child in 2021.

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Colleen

Colleen is a Toronto-based educator, mom and freelance writer who believes in lifelong learning and strong coffee.