Why Outdoor School

Here you'll find some relatively brief notes on The Guelph Outdoor School:

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

And some notes on origins:

G.O.S. started in Guelph, Ontario, in 2012, to address of a growing constellation of needs.  Our mission is to honour the birth-right of kids by providing regular access to wild and natural places.  The rapt awe that is experienced in those places, the curiosity and wonder, is the beginnings of self-directed inquiry and love of learning,  Our programs are a viable complement and alternative for kids who struggle in the conventional classroom format.  At GOS programs, young people learn by doing, by listening, smelling, touching, by solving problems relevant to them, by observing, asking,.  The experience is emergent, thrilling. and equal to the developmental needs of kids who are built to run, to wonder, to be thrilled, and to love the world.

So, read up if you like, or just come on out :)


the benefits

Cognitive, physical, academic, social, emotional. you name it.  Scientific papers in the last ten years have indicated significant benefits on all these metrics.  And we all know it anyway.

Parents @ GOS report kids who are more emotionally balanced and at peace, happy, more focused, more helpful around the house, bright eyes and excited story telling.  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

the approach

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

GOS makes use of the Coyote's Guide for Connecting With Nature, a comprehensive handbook for delivering nature connection as distinct from nature information.  Here are some of the principles:

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, 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, service-oriented, both self-reliant and co-operative, strong, and joyous.



the setting

two living breathing classrooms, totaling 30+ acres of cedar grove along the Eramosa + access in all directions to public wild spaces around Guelph.   

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 locations feature a washroom facility and a heated canvass tent for very cold days.  by it's very nature, our locations are not fully accessible, but solutions exist. 

GOS wilderness 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 brings peace, awe, and wonder, beyond the capacity of any human teacher.


A Typical Day

Welcome:  in circle and around the fire.  introductions with active listening, gratitude, music. make plans.

Activate: warm- up with active games that 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, connecting.

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

Integrate. what are the patterns here? what is this telling us about ourselves, our world?  what's next?

Staff Debrief.  Ongoing professional practice.  How to design future sessions to best meet the learning and development of participants,


a typical year

Our core routines tracking, ancient fire making, knowing the edible, medicinal, & poisonous plants, carving.  archery, awareness games. co-operative challenges. story telling. shelter building. listening well, speaking well, mapping the landscape, sit spot and quiet reflection,

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.