The benefits of educating children about the outdoors
During the fall 2017 term, students in a third-year geography class (GEG3302: Natural Resource Management) took part in a TD Environmental Leaders project at the Carp Ridge Learning Centre. The students were tasked with designing and creating a children’s learning garden that was specifically aimed at teaching kids of all ages about the outdoors and gardening. The goal was not only to make the garden sustainable, ecofriendly, interactive and inclusive, but also to ensure that it caught the children’s attention. “We looked a lot at berries, vegetables and things that get kids intrigued,” explained Andrew Faber, one of the students participating in this project. He added that the team decided to transform an old canoe into a water feature and to incorporate brightly-coloured flowers, such as sunflowers, into the design as a way of keeping children captivated. The students even worked on creating a website.
This was a first Community Service Learning (CSL) placement for Faber, who is completing a BA with joint honours in history and political science. He said that although the students initially found it difficult to coordinate their efforts, they eventually drew upon their leadership skills and, with the help of their supervisor, overcame their challenges. “It didn’t feel like I was doing hours,” Faber said, referring to the time he spent outdoors at the Carp Ridge Learning Centre. He added that it was “a very good opportunity to take all the theory we had learned in class and put it into practice.” Andrew Faber also learned to appreciate the value of teaching children about the outdoors, and stressed the importance of inspiring a love of nature in young children:
- First, harnessing a child’s natural curiosity about nature is an important step in teaching them about environmental issues, including climate change. Faber considers it an indispensable first step in taking better care of the environment.
- According to the Toronto Food Policy Council, around 40% of the food produced in Canada is wasted every year. Faber explained how educating children can help solve this food waste problem: “If you get the children involved in all the steps, from seed to plant, including all the watering, the weeding, to then the picking of, for example a bean, the washing and then the preparation of the bean for dinner […] the last thing they will want to do is to throw this work away and not get to eat the bean!”
- The children’s garden also aims to get children excited about healthy and natural foods, and encourages them to participate in cooking, a skill that has been shown to result in significant, long-term health benefits.
- Finally, gardening and spending time in nature have been proven to positively influence mental health, another reason to encourage young children to spend time outdoors and build good habits for life.
Andrew Faber is now thinking of enrolling in a master’s degree in urban planning. The TD Environmental Leaders placement not only gave him his first experience in design, but also helped him develop and apply useful skills, such as budget management, team-building, and leadership.
The first phase of this project was certainly a success. “We enjoyed the students’ curiosity and enthusiasm,” said Sandy Mark from Carp Ridge Learning Centre. “The students gathered valuable research information and came up with some very interesting ideas for a design of the children’s garden. They also devised a communications plan and created relevant and enticing blog posts.” The children’s learning garden will be planted in May 2018 and volunteers are needed! Students interested in volunteering should check placements #3 and #5 (summer 2018) on the Community Engagement Navigator. The TD Environmental Leaders Program is also looking for new projects that will take place in 2018-2019. Contact us!
By: Marie-Laure Riel
Overcoming challenges to complete a group project
In fall 2017, 11 University of Ottawa students had the opportunity to take part in a TD Environmental Leaders project with partner Just Food. Three of the students completed this placement as part of a course in their program covering areas related to the project, such as natural resource management (GEG3302) and food security (DVM3135). Just Food has a farm in the Ottawa region and is involved in advocacy and awareness-raising to improve food security* locally. Moe Garahan, executive director of Just Food, gave students some alarming statistics during a training session on the topic:
- Fewer than 1% of Canadians are farmers.
- Nearly 40,000 people, including a high proportion of children, use one or more food banks each month in Ottawa.
- If all food deliveries to Toronto were held up, that city would only have enough food stocks to meet its residents’ needs for three days.
The uOttawa students had to carry out five sub-projects to address these issues: running a campaign on social media to promote coming events on the farm; working on planting and descriptive signs for a food forest; helping develop a stewardship program; developing a guide on care for fruit trees; and helping promote and care for a maple grove. As well, the students had to work on two major events: opening the Just Food Farm to the public and the planting day for the food forest, when many key community stakeholders were going to be in attendance.
The project was not without its pitfalls, however, for participants, who had to be very flexible and able to adapt. First, the group lost its team leader one week into the project. Participants showed their leadership skills by forming sub-groups, each with a leader. Dividing up into these sub-groups was difficult, given the diverse experience and education of the students. Areas of study represented included international development, finance, nutrition, environmental studies and biology. Separating students while ensuring balance in each sub-project was challenge, as was finding the most effective way for the groups to communicate. Finally, communication with the partner was difficult at the outset. The students quickly understood that it was always more productive to make an on-site visit to get an idea of the work environment and to speak face to face with the partner.
The TD Environmental Leaders project with Just Food is not officially over, but we can already state that the students have made a real success of it. For Just Food, having 11 students giving 30 hours each of their time has been of vital assistance, especially with the new farm projects, not to mention the fresh points of view on many farm-related issues that the students have brought. For students, it has been a chance to apply concepts seen in class in a real project and to gain field experience right in their community. None of this would have been possible without the students’ ability to continually take on new challenges or their impressive leadership skills.
*“Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” (World Food Summit, Rome, 1996)