Outdoor classroom projects compete for $20K prize

An enterprising Canadian elementary school will receive $20,000 to build an outdoor classroom, courtesy of a contest sponsored by bathroom tissue maker Majesta and Tree Canada.

Moving education outdoors addresses 'nature deficit'

Outdoor classes

10 years ago
Schools across Canada are competing to create the best outdoor classroom for learning about ecology and nature, CBC's Margo McDiarmid reports 2:15

An enterprising Canadian elementary school will receive $20,000 to build an outdoor classroom, courtesy of a contest sponsored by bathroom tissue maker Majesta and Tree Canada. 

Their contest called "Trees of Knowledge" will select a winner in a process that begins Wednesday, with 10 finalists from across the country competing to get the most online votes for their outdoor classroom proposals before the May 11 deadline.

School finalists

Brookside Public School, Lucknow, Ont.

C. E. Broughton Public School, Whitby, Ont.

Central Elementary School, Swift Current, Sask.

École Beaubassin, Halifax

Hilson Avenue Public School, Ottawa

Homesteader Elementary School, Edmonton

Killaloe Public School, Killaloe, Ont.

Pleasantside Elementary School

Sussex Elementary School, Sussex, N.B.

"The idea of the outdoor classroom is to have a place that kids can get outside … and a place that teachers feel comfortable teaching outside," explains Mike Rosen, president of Tree Canada.

The classroom will be used to teach ecology and natural sciences, but can also serve as a venue for other non-science classes.

Rosen says those aren't the only reasons for an outdoor classroom.

It is "also just an excuse, if you will, to get kids to being outside." 

Hilson Avenue Public School in Ottawa is one of the 10 finalists in the Trees of Knowledge contest. Ted Ferguson, a father of two boys at the school, is the volunteer leader of the project. "Kids are always connected to nature. They just automatically are. It's just ingrained in them," says

Ferguson, an environmental consultant, teamed up with the school's two Grade 6 teachers and classes to come up with a plan after he looked around the yard and decided a huge improvement could be made. His initial idea was to create a tree barrier between Hilson's soccer field and Ottawa's busy Richmond Road.

"So I went and spoke with the principal and she was a huge supporter. In fact, she challenged me to do even more," and that's when he came up with the more elaborate $60,000 plan that includes an outdoor classroom.

Ferguson cited British and American studies that suggest outdoor learning is good for both students and teachers. 

The problem for Ginette Thibeault, Hilson's principal, is that there isn't any money in her operating budget this kind of project.

"Any project like this relies on the fundraising we do and how much help we can get from our community partners. So winning a contest like this [Trees of Knowledge] could just totally springboard this project and help in a tremendous way," says Thibeault.

Too many of Canada's schoolyards are concrete and asphalt hemmed in by fences.

"Right away, I'm thinking prison yard," asserts Rosen. It's landscapes like these that contribute to what he calls a "nature deficit disorder" in Canadian children.

"Transfixed with technology and computers [they] are having many virtual experiences but really not having the real experiences," he says. An outdoor classroom will help overcome that problem.

Thibeault sees other benefits, too.

"We think of the excitement that it brings to children and their learning when it's not about paper and pencil and they can actually go out and do and manipulate. The learning is so beneficial when they don't even know they are learning. And that often happens in the outdoors."