Five school-age children are hopping across tree stumps and thick branches as part of an obstacle course — but it’s not a phys ed class. Another group of children have built a teeter-totter out of a wide board and a log — but it’s not recess. They’re all wearing running shoes, their jeans mud-streaked and hair wind blown — but it’s not summer camp.
It’s just a typical day for students enrolled in Maple Ridge, B.C.’s Environmental School Project, where math, science, literacy — and physical literacy — are learned in a revolutionary new way. The students here take all of their classes outdoors, because in this public school there are no classrooms.
A partnership between Simon Fraser University, School District 42 Maple Ridge & Pitt Meadows, and several other community groups in the mountainside city, the Environmental School launched in 2011 and recently expanded from a Kindergarten to Grade 7 program to include Grade 12.
Unlike traditional schools where the learning takes place in a classroom with students dutifully seated at desks, learning at the Environmental School is place-based, meaning that lessons are learned from the surroundings, whether it’s in the woods, at the riverside next to salmon spawning grounds, or in the wetlands.