The first-ever Manitoba Nature Summit was held in September 2010 at Camp Manitou, along the banks of the Assiniboine River just west of the city of Winnipeg. Back in 2008 a group of Early Childhood Educators from Winnipeg, Manitoba travelled to Nebraska City, Nebraska for the World Forum on Nature Education for Children, from that the idea for the Nature Summit began. The conversations at the World Forum were based on getting outside with children, outdoor spaces for children and circumstances affecting children’s outdoor play. Overwhelmingly, delegates from countries all over the world expressed the same concern. Why were children not getting outside? Despite efforts to naturalize play spaces, decrease urban blight and green up play grounds, children were still not getting outdoors. From there, a group of ECEs, lead by Ruth Lindsay-Armstrong, an ECE instructor at Red River College, in Winnipeg, decided to hold a Summit. The Nature Summit was designed to capture the hearts and minds of those who wanted to learn and share a joy of Nature Learning with young children. Camp Manitou was chosen for its unique natural beauty and proximity to the city of Winnipeg.
Participants of the Nature Summit explored natural plants, tasted wild licorice, learned how to cook over an open fire, how to plant a container garden, and how to engage children by pretending they are animals in woodland games.
The keynote speakers joined us from the Wilderness Awareness School in Duvall, Washington. Ellen Haas is an Outreach Specialist and co-author of the book Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature: For Kids of all Ages and their Mentors, Ellen also contributed to many of Wilderness Awareness School’s initial projects in Washington. Lindsay Huettman is the Outreach Coordinator for the school and has a background in organic farming, landscaping, horse packing & training, home-school support and is a self-proclaimed avid plant dork when it comes to biochemistry. Wilderness Awareness School is an American not-for-profit environmental education organization established in 1983 and based in Duvall, Washington. They are dedicated to caring for the earth and our children by fostering understanding and appreciation of nature, community and self. Ellen and Lindsay shared their expertise in nature education and most importantly their passions of getting people playing again. Their dynamic wilderness education courses combine ancient and modern ecological wisdom, and empower people of all ages to become stewards, mentors and leaders. Over the past two decades, Wilderness Awareness School has grown from a small group of visionary individuals to a leading national organization impacting the course of nature education, and inspiring many schools and individuals across the country and the world to share their teachings and curriculum.
Participants came from all over Manitoba! They were ECEs, directors, instructors, and coordinators. A Resource Fair held on the first afternoon provided local information about possibilities for field trips, environmental friendly practices and a chance to look at what Manitoba centres are offering their children outdoors. On the first afternoon participants had the option to try out activities such as wall climbing, archery, mountain biking, zip lining and hiking.
The following day Summit participants had the opportunity to watch a locally produced film, ”And This is My Garden” by Katharina Steifennhofer . The film showed children living in a northern Manitoba community working alongside teachers and adults to plan, grow and harvest their own gardens.
The Living Prairie Museum‘s Deanna Kazina, offered intro workshops about two of their programs: Little Naturalists and Bridging the Gap.
Ron Blatz and Terry Busey, of Discovery Children’s Centre, and Brigitte Insull, of Seven Oaks Child Care, did a workshop titled “Get Out of Here”, where they shared their own experiences and videos about their Early Learning programs’ outdoor endeavours.
Kathryn Mackenzie the Greening Co-ordinator for the Spence Neighbourhood Association, shared her expertise about container gardening which can be a great way to keep in touch with nature during the frigid prairie winters.
In the afternoon, participants had many more to choose from.
A workshop titled Coyotes Toolbox: Games and Activities for Nature Connection was facilitated by Lindsay Huettman of the Wilderness Awareness School.
Ellen Haas, also of the Wilderness Awareness School, introduced delegates to orienting programs to the natural cycle as well as how to measure and spot the indicators of a successful nature connection.
Corine Anderson, of SPLASH Child Care Inc. and Ruth Lindsey-Armstrong of Red River College demonstrated how to cook baked apples, beans, tea, and bannock over a fire in the workshop Cooking Snack Outdoors.
Dolores Deppe, one of the creators of Waldkindergarten, a Nature Kindergarten in Germany, shared her story and experiences with us. Answering burning questions like “where do the children go to the bathroom?”
For those who enjoy the sounds of nature and wish to share that love with children, Ursula MacKenzie came and shared her knowledge of the habits, sounds and sights of local birds in Manitoba.
All weekend participants and keynotes shared the tables for wonderful local, organic meals prepared by Winnipeg’s own Diversity Catering. Many comments from participants said they couldn’t wait for the next Summit!