Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Fire ban

So, the local government implemented a fire ban this weekend locally.  And it’s supposed to be my son’s first campout with me.  While I was initially disappointed not to be able to have s’mores with him, I’m going to make sure that we have lots of fun with candles and looking at stars.  Camping is not all about campfires and marshmallows.  It’s about appreciating nature and telling stories and enjoying being outdoors.  That’s what we’re going to do this weekend.

I’m awfully excited!

Getting ready for family camping

I’m getting excited for family camping season!  We haven’t taken our son camping yet (well, other than living at a camp for part of his life) and him and I are excited for his first night “under canvas.”  We’re getting prepared mentally – had nap time in the sleeping bag and play time in our indoor tent.  We have a sleeping mat.  This weekend coming up will be the first big event – sleeping in the backyard in a tent!  We might all do it, or maybe it will just be the kid and me, but we will have a great time.

In preparation for family camping, you first will need a tent.


If you haven’t been camping in a while, you may find it a bit dizzying the various types and shapes of tents that are available.  Breathe.  Don’t panic and remember that you’re not taking this on an expedition.  Here is what you need to know about a tent for family camping:

1) Tents aren’t the size that they are advertised at.  A four person tent will fit four people. Not four squirming people.  Not four people with any gear.  Buy bigger than you think you’ll need.

2) Buy one with a waterproof floor.  Heavy duty is great!  It will keep you dry.  It won’t be lightweight and will be awful for backpacking.  Backpacking is not what we’re going for here – we’re going for dry and fun.

3) Buy one with a full fly.  Good tents are made with a breathable inner bit and a waterproof fly.  This allows the moisture inside the tent to escape but will keep the rain off you.

4) Don’t worry about “toys” like gear lofts, but look for pockets.  I wear glasses and pockets are a vital part of my camping routine.  If I don’t have them, I stop being able to see when I crush my glasses.

5) If you live in a place where it takes a long time for the sun to go down, it might be worth looking at the colour of the tent closely.  Yellow tents are bright inside – cheerful on a sunny day, but are going to be difficult for your little one to go to sleep in.  Blue will be hot on a sunny day.  I suggest red or silver.

Most important – don’t worry about it so much that you don’t buy a tent and get outside!  Summer is here – let’s go exploring!


The value of summer camp

In my day to day life, I run several summer camps. I believe that immersive outdoor experiences are the best way to connect young people to nature in ways that will allow them to live a lifetime connected to nature. Next to parents, it’s the best long term method. Today is the first day of staff training here at our camp and I’m very happy that we have a team of engaged young adults who understand what we are trying to do.

What I find particularly interesting is just how much they are open to new ideas. I’ve worked with camp staff who thing that any technology is a bad thing, but these guys are open to the idea that you have to meet kids half way if they are going to find what you’re doing at all relevant.

As well, they’re open to letting the kids free range a little bit. That doesn’t mean that camp is going to be absolute mayhem, but it does mean that the kids will have some time to plan their own programs and will be able to engage in ways that are meaningful to them. Experimentation is the key.

Ask questions of your summer camp leadership to see if they will meet your goals or if they will just translate the problems of the city into a natural setting.


I’m convinced that one of the big problems with the environmental movement is that we’re not very good at speaking to those outside of our social circles.  That means that we do a lot of preaching to the choir and thinking lofty thoughts with people who agree with us.  It also means that we run the risk of becoming exclusionary.  Don’t believe me?  When was the last time that you thought of a Republican hunter as an environmentalist?  Or the guy who runs the local ATV club?  We forget that the US National Parks were created by Teddy Roosevelt who, if he lived today, would be both those things – I would bet on it.

We need to understand that we can’t solve all the problems of the world all at once and that getting small results might just be enough.  I believe that part of the solution is just getting kids outdoors.  If we get them outdoors, then they’ll bring their families outdoors.  They’ll learn to love the places that they’re living in.  Eventually, they will want to protect them, they’ll connect them to other issues and they’ll want to do something about those issues too.  When that happens, they will seek out the groups that are doing that kids of work.

But first, we need to do something and we can’t do that if we only talk to those people who agree with us.

The importance of play

I’m convinced that one of the biggest things that gets in the way of kids experiencing nature is that we don’t give them a chance to explore it on their own.  That is, we don’t let them play in an unstructured way.  We’re pretty good at structuring them into play – over 50% of kids take part in some kind of organized sport – and that doesn’t count piano lessons or community organizations.  What we’re not so good at anymore is just letting kids play.

Recently, the Alberta Centre for Active living published an article about this – they found that parents are the number one thing that gets in between kids and play time.  We need to remember this when we’re getting busy – we could be disconnecting our kids from the outdoors.

Here’s the article:

Some new ideas for getting kids outdoors

For the past few days, I’ve been participating in Robert Bateman’s Get To Know your wild neighbours unconference. This has been several days of discussions around getting kids involved in nature. Tons of ideas.

Here are the two biggest ones that I’ve heard so far. In his keynote speech the other night, Robert Bateman suggested that the best thing that we can all do is simply take your children and their friends and parents into the outdoors. It’s really simple, but that’s what will make it work. Make it a weekly habit and pretty soon we will have a lot more kids going outdoors.

But what do you do when you get out there? How will you know what to tell the kids about the various species? That’s where the second idea comes in – and it’s really simple – take photos of various species and go home and learn something new about the species. Parks could help with that as well by thinking about their park design. How many times have you been walking through a forest and seen a sign that has the Latin name of the tree and no other information? That is the ultimate “so what?” moment. Those signs should have some more information about the species. They could tell us something about the plants and help people learn something deeper about them. We should all write letters to the local parks departments offering to help research one plant to help this happen. It wouldn’t take much – one fun fact on a laminated sign would be enough.

I think we need to understand that getting kids outdoors doesn’t mean going to a national park (though there are lots of great reasons to go to a national park – check out my parks pass for grade eight students for a free way to get in) – going for a walk in the local park, a walk on the boardwalk or exploring a local wood lot on a local level make a huge difference on the lives of young people.

Ducks and germs

It’s been a very busy summer, so I apologize for not writing much lately. I have been outdoors a lot and have a lot of new material to share. The first is a vingette from and fternoon this summer. I took my son to the local duck pond to feed said ducks and was pleased that I wasn’t the only one there with a child. Another parent had her three little girls there and was telling her about the ducks. Suddenly without warning she started to tell her one little girl that she was bad. What had the child done? She had put her hand into the pond. The pond had “duck germs” and the child would get sick.

I mention this story because there are many ways that we, as adults, can harm a childs love of nature. This is one. We also will tell them that bugs are gross, digging in the dirt is dirty and that its not safe in the woods with the cougars and the bears and the trees and whatnot. A friend actually shared the tore this summer that a school board was removing white pines because a child could get hit by a pine cone falling. This kind of lunacy has to stop. We can start by letting kids get wet, get dirty and enjoy the great outdoors.

Riverdale Farm

I grew up in Toronto, not quite downtown, but definitely an urban area.  Finding out about where food came from would have been difficult if not for the efforts of my parents (my grandmother lived on a farm) and school trips to apple orchards, a sugar bush (which I’m pretty sure was also the apple orchard) and to Riverdale Farm.  Riverdale Farm is a brilliant idea – a working farm in the middle of a very urban part of Toronto – it’s just off the subway line and allows schools to really show kids where eggs come from and how we get milk.  The experiential educator in me loves it – kids really understand things when they can see them, feel them and smell them.

That’s why I felt horror when I read today that the City of Toronto is thinking about closing the farm.  This is one of those things that will save money in the short term but, like the closing of outdoor schools in Ontario during the 90s, will have far reaching consequences.  Those closings have left a generation of students without an easy route to learning about nature .If this farm closes, kids who have grown up in downtown Toronto won’t care where their food comes from (or will even know).  They won’t think to check if the tomatoes that they are buying were grown locally (and taste good) or came from Florida and might have been grown with slave labour.  They won’t care about the demise of the family farm and the rise of factory farming.

We should be opening more of these food education centres in the world, not closing the few that we have.  We should be encouraging kids in Toronto to help grown gardens and collect eggs so that they know what goes into the food they eat.  We should be following the example of Jamie Oliver and using the food grown to teach healthy eating habits.  These are special places that need to be saved!


This is the highway, leaving Calgary, heading toward Banff on any given weekend in the summer (in the winter, the cars will have skis on the roof). Banff is one of the nicest places in the world and I can understand why so many people would want to visit there.  It’s beautiful, quaint and easily one of the 500 places you have to see before you die.  It’s not, however, the only place to find nature around Calgary.  Nature is everywhere – I think I’ve mentioned this before.  In Calgary, there is even a Provincial Park right in the middle of the city (Fish Creek Park) – a major place to find nature while staying on a bus route.

Barriers to getting outdoors – bugs

This summer has been a terrible one for bugs, specifically, mosquitos.  They’ve been swarming and buzzing around our backyard so badly that, without help, we’re not going to be able to spend any time outdoors without getting bitten hundreds of times.  That doesn’t stop us though, I’ve just taken some precautions.

About ten years ago, I did a lot of research about various ways of discouraging biting insects.  At that time, the University of Guelph had done a comprehensive study on what type of bug juice was the most effective – they tested them all – DEET, citronella, skin so soft, etc.  Here’s what they found:

1) It doesn’t matter what you eat – bananas won’t make you sweeter, for instance.

2) Citronella doesn’t work.  The candles do, but any candle will – it’s the heat that attracts the bugs to the candle and burns them up.

3) DEET works, but works best up to about a 30% concentration and works best when it’s in a cream.  Yes, all of you 100% deet folks out there – you’re stuff isn’t as good as the 30% folks.  Why?  Because DEET evaporates incredibly quickly and 100% will be gone within an hour, 30% in a cream isn’t as exposed so it will take at least 3 hours to be gone.

At the time, they suggested sticking with DEET and that’s what I’ve followed ever since.  It works just fine.  It’s relatively safe to put on and, although it interacts badly with plastic, so do many things.  I put it on my neck and hands and wear long sleeves and pants when I’m in bug country.

Recently, I’ve rediscovered mosquito coils and a new Off Lantern that is out this year.  This is my new favourite – it’s expensive, but it will clear my backyard and we can have family meals out there again.  I love it!  Well worth the money and something that I suggest.

I don’t suggest the mosquito magnets and the like – they just eat too many bugs and remove a valuable food source from the ecosystem.  Better to just scare that food away than to kill it.