Reflection: Inclusivity in the Outdoors

Let’s have a look at a lot of our Outdoor Education programs. Who are your students? Are they diverse? Does your school intentionally try to provide outdoor education for a diverse cross section of their student populations? Or is it the other way? Are our outdoor education programs present simply to entice the typical outdoor education student? You know the one. They are comfortable outside. They have used a Leatherman before. You also have to remind them not to bring it to school. They climb rocks and stuff. Their parent(s) may provide recreational opportunities that include fishing, camping, hiking, or even a bonfire or two.

But what about the other children? What about the less than athletic children who are creative geniuses? Our future writers? Our future computer programmers? Our female students who may be awkward and clumsy and scream when they see ants… even if they are annoying as all else? Our students of colour? Are you enticing them to our outdoor education programs?

If we are to assess our outdoor education programming in public education, a great starting point is to consider who is facilitating said program. Having strong male mentors is incredibly important for young male students. Therefore, having male teachers in a school setting is invaluable. However, when outdoor education is stereotypically dominated by masculine white men, it is important to be conscientious of how that may be affecting who enters your outdoor education programming. Here are some following steps to reflect on your outdoor education program and how you can branch out to a more diverse cross-section of your student body.

If your outdoor education program is facilitated by traditionally masculine men, consider hiring a someone who doesn’t fit that role to co-facilitate your program.

Traditionally masculine men are still awesome. Not traditionally masculine men are also awesome. So are women. So is everyone. Everyone can be awesome. (So let’s not get side tracked by feeling like masculine men are being attacked. They aren’t. They just aren’t the only ones who love the outdoor world.) Students simply need to see that all people can connect to our nature outside. In today’s world of a warming climate and an urbanizing population, it is oh so important to encourage a connection between youth/children and their natural environment. This means that our outdoor education programming should attract ALL students. Not all students are enticed to learn in an environment facilitated by a traditionally masculine men as not all students want to learn only from women (just ask any administrator from an elementary school). If we want to grow all students’ respect and love for their natural environment (and reduce the effects of climate change), it is important to facilitate a program that entices all students to connect to nature.

If the only candidates available for an outdoor education program are traditionally masculine men, say yes to guest speakers. (Remember, guest speakers are a freebie for prep! They do all the work!)

Are there no or very few women, people of color, or people from the LGBTQI+ community applying to teach Outdoor Education in your school communities? That is unfortunate, but you can still create a welcoming environment! For starters, say you cannot hire a woman within your outdoor education program. Well, the world is full of women – working in forestry, in water treatment, in outdoor recreation and leisure, in nature writing. The list is long; there’s a lot of women in the world! Indigenous communities are also graced with the presence of awesome female Elders. So go find that female forester or awesome 70 year-old Elder. Invite them to your class. Most people say yes when the invite is given. Show your students that women have relationships with nature too!

One of the more recent social media world communities I am loving is Unlikely Hikers started by Jenny Bruso. It is a virtual community that highlights people of color and people from the LGBTQ+ community who love hiking. It’s not that surprising. Hiking is pretty great. Your queer student body would also appreciate knowing other queer people who do this activity. We are beyond the discussion of why the needs of queer students need to be met, but it is important to recognize they deal with self-doubt, bullying, and isolation to a larger extent than the rest of the student body. Whether you are teaching outdoor education in Red Lake or Toronto, (1) connect yourself to the queer community, (2) find those lovers of the outdoors, and (3) invite them to your class. It just takes an email to that Pride Parade coordinator and they will know who to ask. Your guest could simply share a nearby outdoors trip they have done. They could share more if they are willing. Break them stereotypes, and make your class more inclusive for your LGTBQ students while you do it!

Ask Yourself: Is My Outdoor Education Programming Welcoming to Newcomers to Canada?

For a variety of complex reasons, many recent newcomers to Canada do not have access to outdoor opportunities, are busy settling into a new country, or do not feel comfortable in outdoor activities. Some recent newcomers are. Either way, it is important to reflect on how we are increasing the accessibility of our outdoor education programming to those who do not solely have voyageur, pilgrim, or farm settler roots with European descent. By including those with different backgrounds and connections to natural environments, we all learn. People of all countries have connections to nature that we can learn from. Make sure that your programming encourages newcomer students to feel welcome. An invitation and explanation of your program may be all it takes. Think of how much you could learn too!

Consult These Wonderful Resources

The Lily Paddlers are late to the game of inclusivity in the world of outdoor education. Consider consulting the following resources to help improve your outdoor education programming. The best, or simply put, the true educators never stop learning. Go learn. Read this stuff.

  • Outdoor Foundation has published this website full of news articles, reports, journal articles, and more that discuss outdoor inclusivity.
    • Favorite: Social Difference, Justice, and Outdoor Education. Pathways: The Ontario Journal of Outdoor Education. Winter 2003, 15(1). Available at:  This issue of Pathways (a wonderfully Ontarioan journal) features many different discussions related to inclusivity in outdoor education.
  • The Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education also has this helpful website with articles “that make the case for why inclusiveness is important to the environmental movement and environmental education.”
    • Favorite: “Facing the Future” article by Audubon Magazine.
  • The Center for Diversity and the Environment is an excellent organization out of Oregon that values the power of racial and ethnic diversity to transform the environmental movement. Their website is full of resources to help explain why inclusivity matters for everyone.

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