New Adventures While Exploring the Elements

Learning Project 2016

By: Li-Ann Yap


The “wilderness” was always a bit of a mystery to me. I had classmates who attended overnight camp ‘up north’, in areas that I’d never heard of. They would share stories of lakes and trails and fishing and camp fires that I couldn’t illustrate in my mind. It wasn’t until my first year of University, as part of a required course, that I experienced “camp” and understood why my former elementary school classmates expressed such excitement around their experiences in the outdoors.

Ten years later I find myself working at Big Brothers Big Sisters of South-West Durham, coordinating sport and recreation programs in the Region of Durham, Ontario. When our Agency was invited to apply for the CST Inspired Minds Learning Project, we jumped at the chance to do something different for the kids in our Agency.

The Great Outdoors category immediately stood out as an area not many of our children had explored – something that my younger self could closely relate to. Whether due to opportunity, cost, transportation, or time, we recognized the dearth of Outdoor Education experiences and wanted to fill the gap.

In June 2015, Explore the Elements – Mentoring in the Great Outdoors was hand selected as a Great Outdoors Category Champion by David Webb, an adventure travel writer, editor, and photographer. We were ecstatic to learn that an outdoor adventure expert believed that our project embodied The Great Outdoors theme.

Explore the Elements gives Big Brothers Big Sisters children opportunities to learn about the classical elements - Fire, Earth, Air, and Water. Volunteer Mentors and certified Outdoor Education instructors work alongside the children, supporting high adult to child ratios, quality engagement, and formalized mentorship.

Outdoor learning!

In January 2016, Outward Bound Canada led Littles and Mentors through Darlington Provincial Park in south Clarington. We fulfilled the “Fire” element through activities themed about thermoregulation, hibernation, and survival in the cold. One of our “Fire” challenges was to create shelters that would protect bottles of hot water throughout the day. The temperature of the water was recorded at the start and end of the day to determine which shelter kept the water bottles most ‘alive’ – let’s just say this was a LOT tougher than we thought. We learned that animals who build shelter and collect food in preparation for winter are VERY smart and work very hard!

Earlier this month, Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority (CLOCA) led us through “Earth” in Enniskillen Conservation Area in north Clarington. The goal of the day was to identify as many different clues about life in the wild. We found mole tunnels, coyote scat (and identified its previous meal!), and woodpecker dining spots, and even planted milkweed to support the monarch butterfly populations. Did you know that chickadee calls sound like they’re saying “cheeseburger”?! The day ended with a hands-on furs & skulls activity in which we identified animals based on the type of fur and shape of the skull.

In April, we joined Outward Bound Canada at Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto, ON to explore “Air” via a 65 foot high rope course. We also took time to sit and reflect on the sounds of nature – it’s the perfect time of year to hear bird calls as their migration and breeding periods start in the spring. Our final event, “Water”, is in 3 weeks via a canoe trip from Harbourfront to Toronto Islands in which we’ll learn about nautical navigation, paddling, and water safety.

Exploring the element of "Air" from a 65 foot high ropes course!

Because of CST Learning Project’s fund support, these opportunities have been delivered at no cost to BBBS children in the Region of Durham. More than 40 children, 10 volunteer mentors, and 8 Outdoor Education leaders have participated in and supported the program. Moreover, this opportunity enabled us to create partnerships with organizations we may not otherwise have connected with, including Outward Bound Canada, Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority, and Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

Enjoying the great outdoors!

We are so thrilled to have been able to provide our Agency’s children with unique opportunities to engage in The Great Outdoors with their mentors. With our new found partnerships, we hope to continue offering exciting outdoor education opportunities in the near future. Thank you to our voters, the CST Inspired Minds Learning Project, David Webb, and our dedicated families for all your support!

Li-Ann Yap is a Project Coordinator at Big Brothers Big Sisters South-West Durham