The Challenge and Blessing of Environmental Education During COVID
For many of us, being outdoors has become much more precious these days than ever before. It’s in nature that we find ourselves being free — free to breathe (sans mask), free to connect (in socially-distant ways), and free to simply be (away from the Zoom calls and sourdough bread-making). Even if just for a moment, it’s outdoors where we can find stillness and peace and an opportunity to connect with creation, and thus the Creator. This is why continuing our education programming despite the challenging times remains a priority for us at A Rocha. Here’s what we’ve been up to in 2020 (aside from all the bread-making):
This fall we piloted a nature school program called Nature Academy. We offered two classes to test out what we thought might be a great program, especially as parents were considering alternatives to indoor school during COVID. When the program filled up in less than 24 hours, we knew that Nature Academy was exactly what families were looking for! Through science classes, wilderness and gardening skills, and child-led exploration, students attending Nature Academy spend a day learning how to interact with and care for the earth. At A Rocha, we believe that experiences like Nature Academy are foundational to our development as human beings, and it is exciting to imagine a world full of people who have grown up caring for the earth. The success of this pilot has prompted us to expand the program in Spring of 2021 and we’re looking forward to teaching more kids about creation care.
This year A Rocha Manitoba ran four sold-out weeks of outdoor exploration day camps for a total of 86 kids. We partner with local Winnipeg churches to provide the location for each camp, and by doing so, we are able to reach kids in many different parts of the city. The camps are focused on helping children develop their natural sense of wonder and curiosity, while discovering the creation that exists around them all the time.
One child, while tasting a fresh carrot from the urban farm we were visiting, exclaimed: “This is good! I would have this for dessert!”
Thanks to a grant from The Winnipeg Foundation, this year we were able to offer subsidies to low-income families, take the kids on a field trip to go pond dipping, and have a special owl guest visit us on site. We hope to continue this good work in the future and expand the program next year to include a week at the Boreal Ecology Centre in East Braintree, Manitoba.
Here’s a testimony from one parent about her child’s experience:
“That camp was amazing. From an outside perspective I would say it’s the most successful A Rocha day camp I’ve seen. The kids were so engaged, so enthusiastic, so connected to the leaders, so full of joy. You guys did a fabulous job of balancing out the activities for different interests and engaging all kids. [Camper] was sad on the walk home today and she said “I just don’t want camp to ever end”.
When we returned back to work in July after the temporary lay-offs starting in March, we dove right into a string of “firsts” at the Brooksdale Environmental Centre. We ran four rewarding weeks of Summer Day Camps. For the first time we designed two camps with different themes allowing a handful of kids to attend twice (and some even came for three weeks!).
As for the fall, we started running Pro D day camps for the first time including some of the following themes: Nature Art, Salmon in Motion and Outdoor Survival Skills. We also launched a three month after school program that included hands on environmental education alongside team building and leadership exercises which was also another first.
Unfortunately, our Farm to Families program has suffered the most from the outcomes of COVID-19 as we have not been able to host any of our programs on-site. However, we have been connecting to our vulnerable seniors through online programming and vegetable delivery. Programming is also being delivered for the first time at six different inner city schools this month for girls who have been identified as “at risk”. We also are finding that grant opportunities which fund our Farm to Families program have decreased significantly due to the pandemic. You can pray along with us that we can secure funding this year to keep this amazing program alive.
While families are facing all kinds of challenges in this time it has been a huge gift to be able to meet needs in our community by offering meaningful experiences in nature.