I have a confession: since January we have gone outside to our forest play area only twice. As a young teacher (or, maybe just as me) I am greatly affected by negative comments that I may receive.  I don’t like confrontation and if it must be done I prefer time to ponder my thoughts so that I can articulate myself. I like to have time to carefully choose my words and to think about the variety of ways that they can be interpreted. It is difficult to ensure that this happens. Generally, people come up to you while you have a swirl of children around you, coffee in one hand, attendance in the other, one child needing breakfast, another asking for their lost mitten from yesterday … these situations are not ideal for having conversations with a positive end and often the words, “could we please talk about this after school” are not feasible for the individual as they also have to go to work. Simply put: we haven’t been outside because I have been avoiding confrontation. Considering that my life motto is “courage,” I definitely haven’t been very courageous lately.

But this is all about to change …

The sun is starting to peek through the clouds and cast beautiful images on the forest floor.

This is a time for celebration! Our time of hibernation is ending and soon, very soon, we will be swinging on branches, jumping over logs, laughing, pressing our hearts into bark and leaves, breathing, living, and being alive.

This hibernation time has been a great learning experience for me. In retrospect, it has been a near perfect experiment where the test subjects, including myself, have been completely unaware. It has been an excellent time for observing and reflecting. But ultimately, it has reaffirmed my belief that children need to be outside in nature and fully engaged in child-directed free play and exploration. It is the key to a well-rounded education, a fulfilled child with a calm spirit, a confident child who is willing to take the necessary risks to succeed in life, a child with a sense of safety and well-being, a child with a connection to place which grounds them, a child with good communication and collaboration skills, a child who is compassionate and shows empathy, and a child with the skills to make good choices in life.

In nature, children begin to build a connection to place which grounds them and gives them a sense of safety and security.
In nature, children have the opportunities to develop their communication skills and to build healthy peer relationships.
In nature, children develop the ability to make good choices and evaluate risks. This leads to the development of self-confidence.
In nature, children develop empathy and compassion. They learn the importance of reaching out to help others.

During the past two months I have noticed changes in my students. Changes that in some cases have left me scratching my head, adding more books to my bedside table, spending more time implementing adaptations or modifications into my indoor classroom = working excessive overtime. Finally, last week when I was pondering yet another modification for a child in my class I realized that all of this started when we stopped going outside. I can add as many behaviour plans or dew-dads as I want, but nothing I do inside will ever benefit the child as much as getting outside and building a relationship with nature alongside their peers.


A student that I’ve worked with was said to have Attention Deficit Disorder. When I brought him into the field, I noticed he had the ears of a scout. He was able to monitor all four directions at the same time, and notice bird calls from every direction.

So, I watched him over time. When we worked indoors, in the classroom, in the group, he was a bit unable to sit still. But when we got out in the field, he was always the first one to see the hawk, always the first one to spot the hiding instructor, always the first one to hear the bird warnings.

And I started to ask myself, “Is that a disorder, or a gift?”

– Jon Young, Seeing Through Native Eyes, audio as seen in Young, Haas, McGown. Coyote’s Guide To Connecting With Nature. 2010.


In the indoor classroom children who receive additional aides often begin to feel self-conscious and to doubt themselves. This lack of self-esteem leads to poor peer relationships and lack of confidence in academics. Soon, the child has a behaviour plan because they may be acting out to compensate. I am inspired by Jon Young’s question, “is that a disorder, or a gift?” Every child deserves to feel confident, to have opportunities to contribute to the community, and to know that their input is valued. Every child deserves to discover their gift in life. This brings me full circle to my August parent newsletter where I discussed my role as teacher in helping children to discover their gifts. I want my students to leave my classroom empowered on the path of finding their gift, not with a label for a disorder.

Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.
Louisa May Alcott


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