This winter, over 3,000 elementary students throughout the Columbia Basin stepped out of their classrooms and into the magical world of Winter Wonder.
In the Castlegar area, Winter Wonder educators Alyssa Belanger, Genna Lazier and Mary Searchfield took twenty Kindergarten to Grade 3 classes from Kinnaird Elementary, Fruitvale Elementary, Robson Community and Castlegar Primary on half-day field studies to discover the awe of winter and why it is so important for our local ecosystems. Judging by the rosy-cheeked smiles on everybody’s faces, amazing days out were had by all.
And for those of you wondering, yes, the amount of extra wonder that fell this winter did not go unnoticed. From the vantage point of shoulder high snow, it becomes a lot easier imagining what it's like to be mice in subnivean tunnels; seeing the adults sink noticeably further than the kids provides a gateway to discussions on how local animals have adapted to get around on top of the snow.
“Some of my most epic moments came from watching kids work together to keep their 'mouse potato' hot in an activity that was developed to connect with the Grade 3 thermal energy curriculum,” said Patty Kolesnichenko, a Winter Wonder educator from Kimberley. “I feel like the luckiest person, having this awesome opportunity to spend my days outdoors with kids, experiencing the wonder of nature and watching them love learning outside.”
Patty was recently recognized by Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network for their 2017 Awards of Environmental Education Excellence, and she was not the only Winter Wonder educator honoured this year. Janette Vickers, a Wildsight educator from Revelstoke, was also named as a recipient of the award—capping off another fantastic season of Winter Wonder and highlighting once again the power of outdoor education.
“Winter Wonder opens up new conversations about the nature we encounter each day,” said Ashley Theberge, a Grade 1/2 teacher at Begbie View Elementary in Revelstoke. “Kids not only get to enjoy the fun of being outdoors, but it also gets them thinking and talking about the science involved in seasons, animal behaviours, and the water cycle.”
Now in its tenth year, Wildsight’s Winter Wonder program lets students exchange their books for boots and head outside to discover the many marvels that the Kootenays’ coolest season brings with it each year. And although the students may not be aware of it, what they are doing outside is all connected to the new BC curriculum. “With an emphasis on place-based learning,” said Monica Nissen, Wildsight’s Education Manager, “the Ministry of Education is asking teachers to provide students with opportunities to experience and interpret their local environment. For the younger learners, a big part of that is simply to support their own natural curiosity—to inspire awe and wonder about the natural world.”
There is something special that gets unlocked when you bring kids out in nature to experience learning in an engaging, hands-on and immersive way. And this Kootenay winter provided yet another remarkable platform for revealing the many layers of wonder to be found on the other side of the windows we all find ourselves staring out of.
Wildsight gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Columbia Basin Trust, the BC Gaming Commission and FortisBC for Winter Wonder.