Learning to love nature

The Nature of PEI by Gary Schneider

My introduction to nature really started on some woodland outings, not in classrooms. That’s probably as it should be, though I think classrooms can be fantastic places to entice young students excited to explore wild places—to feel the wonder instead of being apprehensive or afraid.

Why is this important? Experience tells me that we have lots of parents in this province doing fantastic jobs of getting their children in close contact with nature. And we have large numbers of educators doing the same thing. Some build in studies of birds, for example, to their lesson plans, or make sure students have class visits to nearby woodlands or the National Park.

We have some incredible resources in the province outside of our homes and school systems. The Wild Child Forest School is located in Charlottetown and is a great example of getting children to interact with nature, in the hope of developing a deep appreciation for the natural world.  

Their website (peiwildchild.wordpress.com) states that “Forest Schools aim to provide children with the means of exploring, learning, wondering, wandering, creating, and playing at their own pace in a natural setting that they visit over an extended period of time. The goal of forest schools is to help children and youth find inspiration, build self-confidence, and develop healthy self-esteem through skill development, hands on activities, and outdoor experiences. Forest school provides children with the opportunity to unplug, engage in healthy physical development, and to have positive experiences in nature.”

Another important local source of forest education is regularly provided by biologist Kate MacQuarrie on Facebook, her website (pei-untamed.com), and through dozens of walks, workshops, and presentations. Kate is the Director of Forests, Fish and Wildlife division of the Prince Edward Island Department Environment, Energy and Climate Action. Previously, she was the Executive Director of the Island Nature Trust.

Kate’s real gift is how she relates to people and gets them excited about learning. If you read the comments below her posts, you start to see the value in combining science with passion and a sense of humour.  

Her blogs include information on everything from Krummholz forests to grey dunes, from huckleberries to lobster mushrooms. There is lots of pertinent information on the natural history of Prince Edward Island, how bark photosynthesizes, and how trees adapt to winter. Kate’s interests are all over the map, but like all good writers, she makes it fun to read about something that you didn’t even know you were interested in.

And closest to my heart are the nature camps and educational workshops run by the Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry Project. The Owl Prowls at Macphail Woods are great examples of nature education. While they have been running for more than thirty years, over two hundred people still come out each year for these workshops. Owls are the main ingredient, but the menu also includes the importance of dead wood, the role owls and other predators play in healthy forests, biodiversity, habitat loss, and migration. A whole range of issues, including getting people outside to hoot for owls.  

Being able to get outdoors in nature at night—an experience too few of us have—starts breaking down the fear of the wild, or dark places, or forests in general. You can’t love what you’re afraid of, and having owls respond to calls is quite magical for those attending. For many people, this type of experiential learning opens the door to a deeper understanding and appreciation of nature. Our new catalogue of events is available on our website (macphailwoods.org).