Nature is the Best Classroom | Carolinian Canada

Nature is the Best Classroom

Elaine Chu

“I grew up there, but most likely will never move back to Niagara Falls,” says Dawne Mudford, who moved to Chatham-Kent from Niagara 30 years ago. Though she is often told how beautiful and amazing Niagara is, Dawne regularly reminds people that Chatham-Kent is equally as beautiful and amazing. When she points out the incredible things that are found here, others start to realize the beauty that is right in their backyard.

“Are you kidding me?” was Dawne’s response when some kids in her horse club said they had never played in a forest before. Growing up in Niagara, she spent much of her childhood playing in the bush near her neighbourhood. While in the forest, she slowly learned about the trees, plants and birds. Hearing that the children had never experienced the wild in the same way shocked Dawne. This sparked her interest in starting a club to introduce kids to nature. Now she runs several clubs throughout Chatham-Kent including the canoe and kayaking club and Walk on the Wild Side.

Every time Dawne brings children into nature they encounter animals or plants they have never seen or known before. It was freezing cold the very first time Dawne took the kids out to see beaver ponds and monitor wood duck nesting boxes. After the trip, the kids said, “Dawne, this is way better than watching it on TV!” It was a special experience to see nature through the eyes of the children and so Dawne became passionate about bringing kids out to experience nature. Even though she is not an expert, she has learned a lot through enjoying nature herself and Dawne is connected to many experts who are happy to accompany the kids on these events.

When Dawne brings kids out into nature she does more than educate children about the environment, she also uses it as an opportunity to put their hands and eyes to work in improving the environment. One time she had kids participate in an activity called “Cache-in-trash-out”. Kids and parents from her club came out to clean up trash in a bush that had been there for over six decades. After clearing the trash, the kids spoke with the neighbours who had gathered to check out what was going on in the bush. The kids took the opportunity to explain the impact of throwing their yard waste and trash in the bush. On other occasions, the club encounters animals that are species at risk like the Eastern Foxsnake and Eastern Spiny Softshell turtles, and participate in activities such as banding Purple Martins and Northern Saw-whet Owls, and constructing a snake hibernacula.

Going on a trip to the forest one time is enough for anyone to learn to appreciate nature. Kids are our future and it is crucial for us to educate them about the importance of our environment and teach them how to be good stewards. You can teach children many things in the classroom, but the best way to educate children about the environment is in nature.

“We can talk to them at length about saving our environment, but when we take them out and show them what they are supposed to be preserving, it suddenly has an impact on them – forever,” says Dawne.