Why Outdoor School

the benefits, the approach, the setting, a typical day, a typical year.

Guelph Outdoor School was born in the fall of 2012 as a solution to a growing constellation of clear needs.  Since then, GOS programs have come to be recognized as an effective and thrilling option for learning and development, as well as a non-clinical & preventative approach to overall health and well-being.   Our nature immersion programs are an essential complement and alternative to the conventional classroom format of public and private schools.  For the most part, kids join our immersion programs for one day a week, during school hours. Here, young people learn by doing, by listening, smelling, touching, by solving problems relevant to them, by observing, asking, working together, using fields guides, through song and story, gratitude, contact with elders, tracking, and by playing many, many games.

The experience is emergent, thrilling, and equal to the developmental needs of kids: built to run, to wonder, to be thrilled, to belong.


the benefits

Cognitive, physical, academic, social, emotional - you name it.  The science in the last decade consistently highlights the significant benefits of nature immersion on all the metrics. 

GOS parents report kids who are more emotionally balanced and at peace, more focused, more helpful around the house, bright eyed and full of stories, and competent.  They have an appetite for healthy food, sleep better, and feel better about themselves. 

There are countless resources on this, and we invite parents to check out the research themselves, do a trial session with GOS, and check out our testimonials page: "in their words"

As a species, we are most animated when our days and nights on Earth are touched by the natural world... Reconnecting with nature, nearby and far, opens the doors to health, creativity, and wonder. It is never too late.

- Richard Louv


our approach: the coyote's guide

Natural environments inspire curiosity, wonder, and focus, while  direct mentorship leverages and magnifies the effect for powerful results in learning and personal growth.

Our manual is Coyote's Guide for Connecting With Nature, a comprehensive handbook for delivering nature connection as distinct from nature information.  Foundational to our approach is:

Mentorship.  GOS instructors listen, watch, ask questions, role model, demonstrate, tell stories, identify edges and help push beyond, celebrate accomplishments, and recognize gifts.

Art of Questioning.  Flips conventional teaching on its head.  We value questions over answers, wonder and curiosity before information.  Questions hone inquisitive focus & the curious mind, promotes pattern recognition, and appeals to the innate brilliance of kids. 

•  The attributes of nature connected kids.  Our curriculum is one of fostering character attributes: kids who are aware, self-reliant and co-operative, resilient, joyful and service-oriented.



the setting

a living breathing classroom, 13 wooded acres of cedar grove along the Eramosa + access in all directions to public wild spaces around Guelph, including the Guelph hiking trail and the arboretum.

an ethic of stewardship and right relationship informs our decisions and programs. we are proud to make these places accessible, we consider ourselves guests on this land, and accountable to future generations.

our program locations feature a serviced outdoor washroom and a heated canvass tent for very cold days.  By it's very nature, our location is not fully accessible, but solutions exist. 

GOS wild space is home to deer, porcupine, ermine, mink, possum, raccoon, coyote, eastern cottontail, fox, beaver, milk snakes, red-backed salamander, kingfisher, green heron, cedar waxwing, barred owl, screech owl, to name a few. 

This wild space, like so many like it, have the power to bring peace, awe, and wonder to a child's mind and spirit, beyond the capacity of any human teacher or building :)


A Typical Day

Welcome:  circle around and light the fire.  introductions, listening, gratitude, music. stories. get connected & make plans. 

Activate: thrilling and hilarious warm up games to jump start our bodies, minds, and awareness.  this is essential, and never missed.

Focus: self-sufficiency and co-operative challenges: mapping, tracking, sneaking, listening, fire making.  projects.

Time for Timelessness.  Resting, laughing, reflecting & dreaming, cooking, wandering.

Harvest. Story of the day: what happened? what stuck out?  Lots of questions from instructors to tease out the details to expand & consolidate learning.

Integrate.  How does today's learning fit into the bigger picture?  What are the patterns are we seeing? what is this telling us about ourselves, our world?  what's next?

Staff Debrief.  Ongoing professional practice.  A team of adult mentors sharing stories, insights, questions and feedback for a program that is ever responsive to the developmental stages and needs of each participant, and the group.


a typical year

Our core routines are tracking, ancient fire making, knowing the edible, medicinal, & poisonous plants, carving,  archery, awareness & sensory games. story telling, shelter building, listening well, using our best words, mapping the landscape, quiet reflection and co-operative challenges.

The landscape changes, the seasons change, and we change.  This keeps the core routines fresh. By observing plants in the spring, we better understand them in the summer and fall.  By following deer tracks one year, we can anticipate where they'll be the next.  By practicing fire making in the rain, we are proficient when it's dry.

The upshot is kids who have stories to tell, who understand their impact, and abilities, in the wider world.  they stand tall because they can take care of themselves and others.  they are becoming whole through real moments of triumph or failure, they are rapt with awe for the world around them.  They are clearer on where they come from, where they are, and where they are going.