Early Childhood Education students make nature their classroom

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Dean Carol Kelsey (left), ECE students who took the Eco-Mentorship Certificate program, and Mary Lou Lummiss (right)

Today’s child spends more than seven hours in front of a glowing screen and less than 30 minutes per day in unstructured outdoor play, but Fleming’s Early Childhood Education (ECE) students hope to change that.

On Friday, April 21, Dean Carol Kelsey presented a group of ECE students with their Eco-Mentorship Certificate during the Quality Childcare Displays event in the Sutherland Campus Galleria. The optional certificate program is an innovative collaboration between Camp Kawartha and Fleming College.

“When I heard about the certificate I thought it was an exciting opportunity, something to put on my resume, and good skills to learn that I can use on the job,” said ECE student Amanda Clement, who has since been hired as a Registered ECE at Compass Early Learning and Care at St. Teresa Catholic Elementary School. “I grew up in Haliburton and I enjoy being outside, and being outside was a part of my childhood.”

To earn her Eco-Mentorship Certificate, Amanda had to complete four interactive workshops: Building Children’s Understanding of the World through Environmental Exploration, The Power of Play – Establishing a Personal Connection to Nature, Fostering and Nurturing Stewardship, and Experiencing Being a Part of Nature from an Indigenous Perspective. Through the workshops, students learn to integrate outdoor and nature-based activities, connect children to the natural world, integrate Indigenous ways of knowing and learning, and help foster a generation committed to the stewardship of the planet.

Amanda Clement
Amanda Clement with her Quality Childcare Display

“It was fun learning what’s available in our ‘neighbour-wood’ through this certificate,” said Amanda, who created a bicycle outline on the grass using found objects. “You don’t need to purchase materials and, as a college student, that is excellent.”

Her favourite moment was finding a sit spot to find wellness and peace. “When you go out with kids, they notice something new. It’s such a heartwarming moment,” said Amanda.

ECE professor Mary Lou Lummiss helped redesign this certificate program for Fleming College during her professional sabbatical. She worked with Jacob Rodenburg, Executive Director of Camp Kawartha; attended environmental camps, training opportunities, conducted research, and read several books on mentoring children in the outdoors.

“The ECE program at Fleming shares a widely held belief that being connected to nature is something that is slowly eroding from children’s lives. Research on the benefits of nature connections for children offers insight on the important role parents and educators play in this work,” said Mary Lou.

“ECE faculty wanted to set our program apart by offering a certificate that focuses on the role of the educator, seeing nature through an Indigenous lens, and provide strategies the educator can use with all age groups. We also have been focusing on sustainability within almost all of our courses, so it was a natural fit for us,” she explained.

Mary Lou recommends ECE students take this certificate to gain valuable insight into the affordances of nature, build on children’s natural curiosity to engage them more fully in outdoor learning, and identify barriers in the workplace and seek solutions.

“One student mentioned that she sees the outside and her time with children outdoors much differently now,” said Mary Lou. “Another student let us know that she was recently hired and that her new employer was very interested in her certificate and her passion for the outdoors. She feels it was a key reason why she was chosen for the job.”

Fleming College’s ECE program has an extremely high rate of related employment for graduates. This program prepares students to help young children develop their physical, social and intellectual skills, and their self-confidence and imagination. All courses are based on a philosophy that encourages inclusive practice and partnerships with families.