At some point in your life you may have thought: Wouldn’t it be great to camp in Stanley Park – to experience nature right in Vancouver’s backyard? Well, if you were still in grade 4-7, that dream could come true. This spring, SPES educators turned Stanley Park into an outdoor classroom for 445 budding young campers, taking their curricular learning on a 2-day, 1-night adventure. Students from all over Metro Vancouver joined SPES’ Nature Ninjas Urban Camping program to learn science, social studies, and team building one class at a time.
Here’s what the students’ overnight stay looked like:
Day 1: Early morning. Jess, SPES’ School Programs’ educator, bright-eyed and energetic, introduces students to what it means to be a Nature Ninja: essentially, how to use a variety of skills to respect nature to the fullest. Modeling these attributes, Jess guides the class through hands-on forest ecology and, later, practical outdoor survival skills. As early evening approaches, our night leader Rowen joins the group to teach everyone how to pitch a tent and cook a meal on the camp stoves. Then with flashlights doused, Rowen waits for eyes to adjust to the darkening forest and leads the group on a walk dedicated to the wonders and magic of the night. The students – for many of whom this is their first camping experience – encounter beavers, bats and hooting owls.
Day 2: Students wake in their tents to the morning melody of Swainson’s thrushes. Following breakfast, Jess returns to lead the group on a beach walk. Students learn about the diversity and abundance of life in the intertidal zone, and about the importance and ecological value of wetlands like Beaver Lake. Come afternoon, the class leaves Nature Ninjas full of adventure, new experiences, knowledge and skills, proud of challenging themselves to their limits. Pretty transformative for two days in the forest!
Although unique, this is not a new opportunity for students; SPES and its Nature Ninjas have been camping in Stanley Park for 19 years! 2016 saw 17 classes camping in the Park, 24% from inner city schools. This year, we trialed a new way of looking at the Park: Utilizing a microscope attached to a projector, we gave students the ability to share their wonder and inquiry about the smallest treasures nature has to offer. Check out some of their amazing discoveries!
This microscope, and an assortment of other new gear and tools that facilitate learning outdoors, was made possible through support from groups such as TD Friends of the Environment Foundation and MEC Access & Activity grants. Thanks to their support, nearly 500 students are one step closer to becoming Nature Ninjas and knowledgeable stewards of our natural world.