Mont Royal: A school without walls in the great outdoors

Young people today spend less and less time in nature and this decrease has consequences on their overall health and well-being. On the occasion of the annual conference held by the Association québécoise pour la promotion de l'éducation relative à l'environnement (AQPERE) on November 3 and 4, members of the environmental education community in Quebec examined this challenge for a second year. More than 100 organizations from throughout the province, including Les amis de la montagne, signed a call to action to promote an increase in Quebec youth’s contact with nature.

Several European countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Great Britain have established national education programs that ensure more time spent in nature during regular class hours. Programs for 4 to 6 year olds have demonstrated that regular and frequent contact with nature stimulates their motivation and concentration, develops their motor skills, improves their health, boosts their self- confidence and develops their social skills (see the "Forest Kindergarten Feasibility Study" published in Scotland in 2009).

With a solid 30 years of experience in the domain of environmental education on Mont Royal, Les amis de la montagne already actively contribute to this movement. Mont Royal, by virtue of its accessibility and proximity to the urban population, provides unique experiences in nature to thousands of Montreal youth. All of the educational programs developed by Les amis de la montagne, from pre-school to university levels, emphasize direct contact with nature. Each year, nearly 10,000 young people participate in Les amis’ activities held in nature on the mountain. Through sensory play in the forest or the observation of flora and fauna, our educators share their passion for this remarkable natural environment in the heart of our urban metropolis.

The Mont Royal experience extends beyond the school context. Les amis de la montagne created a summer day camp program in 2009, allowing dozens of children the opportunity to spend a week in the mountain forest during the summer. This year, nearly 200 children participated in the day camp. Anxious to provide the day camp on the mountain to more children, Les amis continue to seek stronger partnerships with schools and community organizations located around the mountain. A new project with the ministry of education’s Une école montréalaise pour tous program, for example, will provide 400 6-7 year-olds the opportunity to discover the seasons on Mont Royal through visits in the fall, winter and spring (see article below).



According to Quebec’s ministry of education, students from disadvantaged neighbourhoods have less access to and therefore, lack the benefits derived from enrichment programs that integrate cultural activities in teaching. New practices in cultural learning in disadvantaged neighbourhoods aim to develop greater interest in the arts and sciences, and promote visits to centres that provide cultural, artistic and scientific programs.

For the last four years, Les amis de la montagne have proudly partnered with the Projet de médiation culturelle en milieu défavorisé that has contributed positively towards the creation of a committed educational community in this area.

In 2011-2012, close to 400 students from grades 1 and 2 (20 classes) will participate through this program in Les amis’ “school without walls in the great outdoors.” The organization’s educational services division has developed a tailor-made program that will introduce children to how the mountain’s flora and fauna adapts to the different seasons.

This fall and winter, either by foot or on snowshoes, the students will explore Mont Royal and visit the stables of the SPVM cavalry. During the outings, children will be encouraged to take mental snapshots of what they observe in order to later transcribe and illustrate their ideas on paper. Next May, all the students will gather at Maison Smith to showcase their portfolios.

Éric Richard, director of educational programs