Alberta Grassroots: Growing to Care
Welcome to Fish Creek
Calgary's Fish Creek is one of the largest provincial parks within a municipality, running along the Bow River on the city's south side. The park's many activities and programs are run by the Friend's of Fish Creek Society. Among the oldest of these is the Learning Naturally program. The park's proximity to urban areas works well with the program's intended goal of providing economically-disadvantaged students and new Canadians a place for hands-on environmental education. By maximizing the students' time outdoors and by exploring types of local flora and fauna, the program provides students with new types of learning and a change of scenery. The program is funded entirely by donations and sponsorships, allowing free access to schools and families and breaking down barriers between kids and their local green spaces. It is likely that without this program, many of these children would not have the opportunity to visit a provincial park until later in life, when the desire to visit and learn may have already faded.
Advantages of Learning Naturally
Access to nature gives children first-hand experience of what nature is like in their area and how they can best support it. Crucially though, it also provides an immense opportunity for children to develop their empathy and humanity. The wonders of wildlife give eager minds the opportunity to seek out and appreciate things different from themselves and to imagine different ways of life, both excellent tools for building empathy. Along with these opportunities for self-learning, the program provides the opportunity for children to form bonds with their peers. Sharing great experiences together, like hiking and camping, creates friendships. Fish Creek also offers kids the opportunity to explore and discover together, something often lacking in the education system. Exploring a new environment with a partner is not only engaging but it can help develop cooperation skills, an excellent tool for team work. Basically, Fish Creek offers so much for kids to enjoy, learn, and discover, helping them to further develop.
Planting the Seed
The program is neither complicated nor ingenious; you take children into nature to learn about nature. Not exactly mind-blowing. But when I learned about Fish Creek, I was touched. Seeing that children were being offered an opportunity similar to my own experiences as a child in the woods, I felt tremendous hope. Those experiences have deeply connected me with the nature in my community and I hope that these kids will grow up with a similar concern for Fish Creek. Any adult who's felt the sting of seeing a childhood playground torn down can attest to the bond childhood creates between oneself and a setting. Fish Creek provides an example of nature that will create such bonds, both with nature and with one's peers.
Watching Them Grow
Now, will this program transform the next generation of Calgarians into environmental activists? Probably not. Not all of us need to dedicate our lives to fighting for causes. However, I wager that if you show a child the joy and wonder of the natural world, it’ll have an impact on them. Something will awaken inside of them ten or twenty years down the line when they become aware of the ecological reality we face. That’s the true power of this program – the impact it can have. The many benefits that this program offers towards a child's education are, in my opinion, almost secondary to the opportunity it offers them to find themselves in nature. So why not let the minds of our future be formed among the rivers and pines of this beautiful province?
[Image courtesy of Google]