Post-secondary students in early learning and childcare instructor Jennifer Usher’s movement and music class takes part in Indigenous drumming in the MHC tipi with representatives from the Miywasin Friendship Centre.PHOTO COURTESY MEDICINE HAT COLLEGE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Medicine Hat College is taking part in a collaborative four-year research project called The Outdoor Pedagogy ECE (early childhood education) Faculty Research Project. The project is being led by Okanagan College’s Beverlie Dietze.

Ten colleges across Canada, including two others in Alberta, are involved. MHC’s early learning and childcare instructor Jennifer Usher said, “We’re all at different spots in our journey towards outdoor pedagogy. I would say here at MHC we don’t really do a ton of outdoor learning with our students.”

In her second year of teaching in the ELCC program, Usher was thrilled when MHC’s chair of education asked if she would be interested in taking part in the project. The focus for the first year of the project is a complete literature review to ensure everyone is well grounded in current research.

By 2024, the program will have a fully outdoor course, called Outdoor Pedagogy in Early Childhood, which will run from September to December that year.

“I’m pushing this forward to start having our instructors take our post-secondary students outside more often now,” stated Usher. “Getting them to have experiences with and without children in the outdoors.”

The intent is for the outdoor course to embrace all four seasons, giving the future graduates ideas on how children can be outside in all weather.

ELCC is a two-year diploma program and Usher is already incorporating outdoor learning into all the courses she teaches.

“It’s interesting because some of the classes I teach are not traditionally something you would teach outdoors. Normally, you would be sitting in a classroom lecturing with a PowerPoint. I try to embed hands-on experiences, but now I am trying to think about how I can use nature and the outdoors to provide that experiential learning for my students because I think if I do it for them it’s modelling what we want to see them doing for children.”

Usher had the chance to hold some of her music and movement classes in the tipi located at MHC. With instruction from representatives of the Miywasin Friendship Centre, the ELCC students took part in Indigenous drumming.

“We were sitting in the tipi, it was lightly raining and the sound of the rain on the hide was magical for us,” said Usher.

She feels this type of experience has greater impact, unlike sitting in a classroom during a lecture.

“I want to be offering experiences that will be remembered and will maybe form part of the things they want to do with children.”

Usher will be collaborating with the Indigenous Support Office at MHC while building the new outdoor course. While being outside learning about ELCC is important, she wants the course to be more than that.

“I’m thinking about it as landscape education. Fostering that idea of our connection to the land and our Indigenous peoples of Canada’s connection to the land. They were stewards of the land for so many years before we came here and I feel like it is part of my own personal/professional journey towards truth and reconciliation, which I know is such an important thing to the college as well. I feel like that’s the place to start. I don’t want to start anywhere else. I feel that must be our foundation and that it should be built in right from the get-go.”

Usher will be presenting at a free virtual conference on May 10. To register, visit by May 8.

By SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 19, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Medicine Hat News   Medicine Hat, Alberta

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