It has been documented that most children can identify 50 or more brand symbols, but less than 5 species of local plants. Canadian children are so immersed in consumer culture indoors, they are often quite unaware of their personal natural surroundings outside.
We have made a concerted effort to be outside more at our small rural school. Our ventures are iterative, that is, we visit the same spot on an open benchland near our school over and over and start with free exploration. This type of learning is open-ended. The students are motivated to learn in this way and often cheer when it is time to head out. Afterwards we meet either outside as a group or back indoors and discuss what we've noticed or come up with questions about where to go next in our learning.
Our class has been focused on learning about local plants and their Okanagan names, importance and uses. A nsyilxcən language mentor visited the classes at our school over a 10 week period and through story and language, taught students about the landforms, plants, and animals in the Okanagan. By involving local elders and knowledge keepers, the learning is not only more accurate and less filtered by western interpretation, but also explored in an engaging way through story, drumming, and songs.
As well, last year a biologist from the RDOS (Regional District) visited and took us outdoors to examine the competition between invasive plants and indigenous species. The students have had an ongoing multi-year role in shaping the landscape as they seek to reduce the impact of invasive species around the school site.
This year (2017-18) the whole school is going to embark on a service inquiry of working in family groupings to address the invasive plant issue on a larger scale and to re-introduce some indigenous plant species to our surroundings. This work will be done with the support of land based Learning Program Activities with the ECOmmunity Place Locatee Lands at the En'owkin Centre. We are excited about this opportunity and are grateful for the support of local experts in our community.
Submitted by Michelle Tom, West Bench Elementary School