Why place-based learning is one of our most important tools

Photo: Laura Bourden

Place-based learning: it’s a well-used term in the education community. But what does it actually mean? 

As the name suggests, place-based learning helps students develop a sense of place through exploration of an environment. It immerses learners in their local landscapes and can include experiential learning, outdoor education, Indigenous knowledge, community-based education and more. While this style of learning saw an uptick during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wildsight Education has been championing it for more than 20 years. We know (and research backs it up again and again) that place-based learning works!

Laura Bouden’s Grade 6 class at Saint Joseph School in Nelson was one of the lucky classes this year to experience some place-based learning through Wildsight’s Classroom with Outdoors program. This program promotes healthy, hands-on learning by getting students in Grades 4–7 into their wild backyards for a day-long field trip to local grasslands, wetlands or forests. 

Wildsight Educator Genna Lazier guides students on a forested walk by the Slocan Pools. Photo: Laura Bourden

One student’s comment after the field trip proved once again that place-based learning is effective: “I think the outdoors is better at teaching you how to think better about the planet and school!”

Students visited the Slocan Pools trail, a meandering path that follows the Kootenay River through a mature and diverse forest. This area is rich with storytelling opportunities, from the trailhead — the site of an old settlement from the dam-building era — to pithouse depressions along the river that remind us this has been the home of the SN̓ʕAÝCKSTX for thousands of years. 

Photo: Laura Bourden

This area is also the upper reach of where ocean-going salmon would have migrated to spawn in the pre-dam era. Upstream from the deep pool is a series of cascades, now entombed in the Cora Lynn Dam, that were a natural barrier to the fish post ice-age. These cascades are responsible for our beloved Kokanee Salmon who learned to stay in freshwater for their entire life cycle rather than return over the falls to the ocean!    

In this field trip, reports Wildsight educator Genna Lazier, “Students learned about their connection to place and the rich history of the First Peoples, the animals, the dams and the river.”

The class also learned about the magic of ecosystems, starting with the wonders of photosynthesis and the life-giving green plants surrounding them in this forested field trip. 

Summing up their experience, one student exclaimed: “I would like to thank Genna for an amazing experience, it was very fun and I loved all the games. I enjoyed hanging out with my friends and playing the fun games and being in nature.”

Now that’s place-based learning in action!

Photo: Laura Bourden

Wildsight thanks Columbia Power, the Community Foundation of the Kootenay Rockies, Copernicus Education Products, Consecon Foundation, Kimberley Alpine Resort Community Summit Fund, Kootenay Co-op, LeRoi Community Foundation, the Osprey Community Foundation, the Province of British Columbia, Teck Trail, and all of our individual donors for making this program possible.