Reconnecting people with outdoor living
CBU Professor Pat Maher hopes his academic research projects will one day help connect more people to “friluftsliv”.
The Norwegian term, pronounced free-loofts-liv (“free-air-life”), means ‘open air living’. Maher came across the concept while conducting research in Norway, part of a Trans-atlantic collaboration on Outdoor Studies with Norwegian and Canadian universities.
“I really feel that they are doing something right [there],” said the Associate Professor in Community Studies and Outdoor Leadership at the recent Hike Nova Scotia Summit Ingonish. “What I think they really do right is, that connection to nature is just the societal norm. Like, nothing really happens on Sunday because everybody's out enjoying nature with their families.”
On research excursions to Scandinavia, he observed the practice of “udeskole” or “outdoor school”, where teaching children to be functional outdoors is a curriculum priority. In Denmark, the school supply list includes a raincoat and a jack knife. In Finland, Norway and Sweden, teachers are empowered to take the classroom curriculum outdoors if the weather is nice.
“I would say most of North America, if you want to include outdoor-related stuff, it's like once a year for two days your class goes to some outdoor centre. Done. It's not every day that you figure a way to integrate the outdoors into your teaching of every single subject. We would need checks and balances, and forms signed off on, and permissions.”
Maher believes outdoor education instills a lifelong awareness and appreciation for the health of our natural surroundings.
“If we've been segregated from doing things in nature our entire education system - which is like 15 years of our life - then how on earth are we supposed to care about what's going on out there in the environment?”
“Or, if we'd been told that we had outdoor education, but we had to cut it because math and history was more important. What does that say when you're asking people to stand up against climate change, or whatever the environmental issue may be?”
Funders are taking seriously Maher’s current research into sustainable interactions between people and nature. He has received $350,000 through various funding bodies to advance his research in the 2018-2019 academic year.
In time, he hopes to see direct practical applications of his research. Perhaps it will one day lead to taking the tension out of classroom vs. outdoor learning in North America.
Anjeannette Lemay-crowtz, instructor with Hike Nova Scotia’s Reconnecting with Nature program, encourages children to notice their natural surroundings from a unique angle during the Earth Walk program at the 2018 Hike Nova Scotia Summit hosted by the...