Hope for Diversity in Outdoor Learning
I have loved the outdoors for my entire life. Both of my parents were born in Guyana. My mother in the capital city of Georgetown and my dad in the countryside (Land of Canaan). They grew up spending a lot of their time outdoors. My father is an avid outdoorsman (fishing, camping, etc.). Their love of nature and the outdoors definitely influenced me. Now, as a teacher, I share this passion with my students and their families. There are so many opportunities for learning when you take your class outside. Not just outside in the paved schoolyard. But venturing further to explore the neighbourhood and other nearby natural areas.
My “happy place” has always been anywhere I am surrounded by nature (especially if I’m near a lake/river/creek with trees nearby).When I became a kindergarten teacher, I was excited to be able to share my love of nature with my students.
My family would go camping every summer throughout my childhood. On our family camping trips growing up, we would often visit North Bay and Tobermory. Bruce Peninsula National Park and Camp Mikisew were our favourite spots.
One vivid memory I have of these camping trips (when I was a child), was that I would never see other Black people. Or any people of colour. My sister and I would always ask my parents why we were the only Black/coloured people around. I also remember I used to ask my dad if he could pay me $1 for every Black person we saw on our camping trips. As far as I can recall, he never had to pay me once! This was a bit of an ongoing joke for my sister and I. We were amused. Now that I am an adult, it makes me happy every time my family (my husband and our 2 children) goes for hikes or to our cottage in a small town and we see other BIPOC families enjoying the outdoors. Nature is colourblind. I no longer go out (like I did as a child), looking for other people of colour when I am camping or doing other activities in nature. That’s what I did as a child (to try and earn that $1 from my dad!). Now I just enjoy the beauty and calm that nature brings.
I have been a member of the Teacher Advisory Committee for Take Me Outside for a few months. I am also on their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. One of our goals is to make outdoor learning more diverse and inclusive. We would like to see more BIPOC represented in outdoor learning. To make nature experiences more accessible for those who might face barriers to outdoor learning (e.g., financial in terms of not having the proper clothing for the weather conditions, or not having natural areas nearby)
I teach in a very diverse area in the Peel District School Board. I have always encouraged my students’ families to get outdoors together. Every year I make a point of sharing outdoor education resources with families. One example is the Family Nature Club Toolkit. I love hearing from parents that my passion for nature has inspired them to spend more time outdoors with their child. Or that their child insists that they go on family nature walks because we do in school.
Every year my students love when we go on nature walks. They’re happy, curious and eager to explore and discover.
I love nature and sharing this passion with others.
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~Nevella Schepmyer-Venton, O.C.T. (she/her)