A photo of young students looking around them with binoculars in a park as part of the NatureHood Program.

Nature creates safe space for kids to express themselves

By: John Loeppky December, 2023

Nature is important to Saskatchewan’s identity. Known as the Land of Living Skies, the province is also recognized for its flatlands, deserts, lakes and dense forest. Getting out into nature to learn about the province’s land-based heritage builds understanding for youth, but experiencing these discoveries may not be easily accessible for inner-city classrooms.

Nature Saskatchewan, through its national NatureHood Program, is changing that narrative. Shannon Chernick, manager of conservation and education, Nature Saskatchewan, says that the program provides vital knowledge, especially for students from inner-city schools, who face barriers.

“There is evidence that when you incorporate land-based learning in programs, [student] attendance rates increase and their engagement increases.” She adds that, “not only does it increase for those subjects [the students are] learning about that day, it increases in everything because they start to see learning as something authentic for them.”

During each session, Chernick would accompany the participants to areas around Regina, places that she says, a lot of adults wouldn’t look at twice. Sometimes activities would include birdwatching, going to a community garden, or going into a pond, dipping for minnows.

“One of the student's activities was to take what they found and lay on the ground. And, another person would put the objects around them,” says Chernick. “They made their silhouette out of natural objects. Taking turns, they realized what they looked like, too, which was really cool.”

Through the program, transportation and the educator are provided, eliminating those costs to the participant. Students get to experience nature by visiting ponds, engaging with natural elements and even playing in the mud.

Taylor Harris, manager of community programs, YWCA of Regina, established a partnership with the NatureHood Program. As a result, she says this summer her participants, aged five to nine years old, gained incredible value out of the activities.

“I didn’t really know going into it what the advantage would be to bringing kids into nature and letting them explore openly,” she says.  “You saw growth in a lot of kids who weren’t really open before. Those who hadn’t really made those relationships with the other adults yet, opened up more.”

It wasn’t just the students who got to learn about the land around them, its history, and its culture. Harris says that being part of NatureHood helped her see spaces she’s been in and around her whole life in a new way. “It’s just little pockets of Regina that I didn’t really know existed. And now I get to explore those new places with my kids.”

The NatureHood program is offered through Nature Saskatchewan, which receives its Annual General Funding from Sask Lotteries, in partnership with SaskCulture.