Nature Canada

CLIF Camp Day: NatureHood Contest Winners

“I am so excited!!” the 6-year-old beamed as she jumped around in her pink snow pants, brimming with anticipation. Bright and early, the first family joined us at Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area in Milton, Ontario. Her mother, Manna, explained that Hazel didn’t have school yesterday and couldn’t stop daydreaming about the CLIF Day camp we were about to embark on together. Having just moved to Canada a few years ago from India, now was the opportunity to finally experience Hazel’s “wish list” of nature activities.  

This year, Nature Canada’s NatureHood program held a drawing competition for children with the support of CLIF Bar to encourage young people to discover and explore nearby nature. The grand prize winners received the greatest gift – the gift of a day in nature.

As an environmental educator, engaging youth with the outdoors is so much more than playing outside. For me, encouraging the next generation to form a relationship with nature, no matter the season, is a direct form of climate action. Needless to say, I too, was excited to create a unique opportunity for the families and an experience that would be transformational for the children. 

That morning, we set our intentions for the day which included drawing ‘peace’ and ‘inspiration’ from the land. It was wonderful to have Elder Garry Sault to open the day with an Indigenous ceremony, and for him to share the history of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation who have stewarded this land through the years. 

As I kicked the day off with icebreakers and games, it may have appeared as though they were simply playing in the snow, but in fact, there was more at play (pun unintended). They were actually learning about the larger ecosystem that they are connected to. They also learned about a variety of food chains that actively surrounded them on the very land we stood on. This was a reminder that although things may not be in our view, the creatures we share this planet with coexist alongside us. 

No camp day would be complete without pitching a tent! The kids used their teamwork to set the tent up and quickly learned how important shelters were for animals, thanks to the cold winds that blew by. They also saw this in action when they went birding afterwards, with Brittany Vezina and Teagan Netten and noticed that there were no birds in sight out in the open wind. But, as we walked under the pine trees, we could hear them chirping. Much like the chickadees, the children, Adeline, Selena, Hazel and their parents were able to experience the warmth that the trees provided as a barrier to wind and snow. Thanks to their binoculars, they also spotted a Hairy Woodpecker looking for food at the edge of the escarpment. These are the moments that nature reminds us how intelligently animals adapted to survive the winter. 

They saw James Morrison build a fire using only elements from nature: a cattail, tree bark and firebow. Then, of course they took the opportunity to roast marshmallows and enjoy some s’mores! The last hike of the day was led by Brian Ford, a botanist who brings the forest trails to life like no other naturalist! It was yet another reminder for families that despite it being a time when people tend to connect less with nature, the forest is very much active and the trees don’t need leaves to be the life of the forest. 

As an educator, I am constantly thinking about what teachable moments can be drawn from their experiences. “Should I connect this to the climate crisis? Do the kids know that these cold, snow-covered trails will be rarer when they’re my age, living in a warmer climate? Do they know that we are standing in one of the lushest parts of the protected Greenbelt that is currently under threat of development by the provincial government?” These are the thoughts that ran through my mind. 

But, as with all teaching experiences, I left learning something from their excitement- which was to simply be present. Sometimes the best thing we can do for nature is to BE immersed in it physically and mentally. Nature is the best teacher, and I know that it’s these moments that foster a deeper connection to nature, and our desire to advocate on its behalf. 

A big thanks to CLIF Bar for their incredible support, to Vortex Canada for donating binoculars and to lululemon for donating winter apparel to the families. Check out the earlier blog to see the winning drawings and the full list of contest winners.

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