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Seeds of Curiosity

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Anyone who has gone to school, or has children, can remember the excitement and buzz of the field trip. The opportunity to escape school for a day, take a ride on the big yellow bus and sit with your friends, trying to figure out who gets the window seat.

Conservation Halton is proud to be one of the largest providers of outdoor experiential programs for children in the GTA, with between 60,000 and 70,000 children a year participating in its school programs. This is something we have said for several years in our communications materials, media releases, speaking notes, website and other places. We have good reason to be proud, as our programs have touched the lives of many young people and provided them an outdoor classroom to learn in.

But perhaps the bigger question is why? Why do we offer these programs and what do we hope will be the end result …

“An environment-based education movement–at all levels of education–will help students realize that school isn’t supposed to be a polite form of incarceration, but a portal to the wider world.”
Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

We’re certainly not comparing school to incarceration of any type. We do agree that for many children environmental and outdoor education can plant a seed in them for the appreciation of the natural world around them.

One official reason Conservation Halton is involved in outdoor education is because it’s part of our mandate, to provide lifelong education and recreation. For the 36 Conservation Authorities throughout Ontario, outdoor education is a fundamental program particularly since we have beautiful and often unique outdoor spaces to welcome people to. In fact, according to Conservation Ontario, in 2012 Conservation Authorities delivered school curriculum related programs to 430,000 Ontario students at more than 3,800 schools across the province.

The roots of Conservation Halton’s environmental and outdoor education initiatives go well back into our nearly sixty year history. In 1966, Conservation Halton organized an Arbour Day program for local schools. In the 1970’s with conservation taking on a new importance, education moved to the forefront and school trips started to the field centres at Mountsberg, Crawford Lake and Kelso. There was a new conservation education program added to school curriculum in cooperation with the local boards of education.Iroquoian Village in Crawford Lake

Archaeological investigations at Crawford Lake Conservation Area uncovered traces of a pre-historic Iroquoian Village in 1973 which helped change the outdoor education game in our community. Ultimately, based on that discovery Conservation Halton constructed a replica Iroquoian Village with three longhouses constructed on the original site, with the first opening in 1982 and the most recent, the Deer Clan, opening in 2014.


Today, Conservation Halton has a number of community education and outreach programs. In addition to the field trips offered at our conservation areas and in-school programs, we have two popular festivals.

In 2006, the Halton Children’s Water Festival was launched as a partnership with Halton Region to educate children about one of our most precious resources water. The first water festival was for 3,000 students in Grades 3 to 5 and lasted three days. Since then, the Festival has expanded to 3,800 students, added Grade 2 and is now four days. All ten festivals have been held at Kelso Conservation Area.

In 2012 the Halton Forest Festival was first held at Rattlesnake Point for Grade 6 and 7 students. The festival has grown from 975 students and three days in the first year to now four days and nearly 1,200 students. The Forest Festival covers six themes, Biodiversity and Species at Risk; Climate Change; Forest Ecosystems and Interactions; Forest Resources; Stewardship and Conservation; and Urban Forestry.

Certainly we don’t do environmental and outdoor education just because it’s part of our mandate. It is a critical component in the development of healthy, ecologically conscious citizens. It helps those who participate to develop a greater understanding of the environment which sustains them. It can open their eyes to the interconnections between the health of our watershed and the plants and animals which live there and the health of our families.

“Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.”
Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

Conservation Halton believes that when young people have a chance to participate in our programs the messages and lessons they receive can stick with them for life and have a positive impact on our community.

Environmental education brings students outside school walls and into natural classrooms where they can get their hands dirty looking for salamanders, or learn how to use a compass, or find out how people may have lived hundreds of years before we did. These activities inspire awe, which in turn inspires care. It reaches students on an intellectual and emotional level we are less able to reach inside four walls.

But don’t just take our word, as we once heard a student say leaving the Water Festival at Kelso, “I wish this could be my classroom everyday …”

Halton Forest Festival

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Last modified: September 5, 2017

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