Resources

Stories from Outdoor School 2023/24

May 14, 2024

Welcome! We’re excited to share stories of adventure, curiosity and connection from our Outdoor School 24/25 season. You can come here at any time to get a sense of what we’re up to and what has us excited. If you’d like to see some awesome photos or have the stories to come to you, follow us on Instagram or Facebook!

 

May 10, 2024

It’s feeling like spring has brought an abundance of activity to the parks, and this past week week was full of nature discoveries, animal sightings and crafting at our Outdoor School programs! Here’s a quick snapshot of some of what we got up to:
🐌 There were so many active creatures in the park! We spotted toads, snails, snakes and many different species of birds – like grackles and egrets. Using our binoculars, some of us even spotted a member of the weasel family across the river! We noticed how quickly and smoothly it moved along the rocks, and also that it seemed very sure on the slippery bank.
🪶 With all of the bird sightings happening in the park, we took some time to ID some of the bird feathers we found using our field guide.
🪢 Our Run Wild and Fiery Foxes groups practiced their knot tying skills and were able to create an obstacle course and a spiderweb out of ropes. They also learned how to make daisy chains, and got so good at it they could teach their instructors!
🌼 Flowers continue to bloom! Each week it feels like we’re spotting new flowers that weren’t there the previous week, and we’ve been noticing and wondering about why yellow seems to be a common colour for flowers in bloom right now.
🪺 One Weekend Wanderers group went on a spring scavenger hunt and were so excited about a discovery that wasn’t on their list- some large eggs in a nest! Do you know who they might belong to?
🪡 And of course, these warm sunny days make the best days for crafternoons! We’ve been carving, making cordage, coil baskets and more.

May 7, 2024

On our spring overnight weekend, the Teen Wilderness Adventure crew returned to the out-of-city location we’ve been visiting each season and were greeted by a chorus of migratory birds and spring blooms. Deciding to take advantage of the longer spring days, the group headed straight across the lake to the campsite we built together in October. Immediately we got to work, getting the tents set up and firewood ready to go. Throughout the weekend we spent a lot of time exploring the area up and down the creek, taking note of how the land has changed since October. The group spent time getting to know the abundance of wildflowers growing around us, saw and heard a ton of birds, and checked out animal sign and different swamp and marsh habitats. We decided to have a 10-minute fire challenge (10 minutes to gather materials and build a fire that burns for 10 minutes without tending), and the fire that the teens built burned for 35 minutes in the rain! And after a big wander in the rain, we played a game of Spear Through the Y (aka forest basketball) to warm up again. On Sunday, we made the most of the warm weather with a (quick!) swim in the lake before paddling back to begin our adventure home.

We can’t believe that there’s just one more weekend left together! We’re excited to see how different the land looks when we return in a few weeks and close off our year of adventures together.

April 27, 2024

We’re somehow already halfway through our spring season together at Outdoor School! Here’s a bit of what we got up to this week at programs:
🐌 On a wander, one of our Coyote Pups groups found SO MANY SNAILS! They were excited to learn about how they moved and practiced patience while they waited for them to come out of their shells.
🌼 Plants have been a big inspiration for many groups now that there are so many flowers in bloom! The Thursday Wilderkids group learned about botanical terms used in plant identification, including ways to describe leaves and flowers. Then they took their nature journals on a sit spot and some decided to draw and label the plants they saw. One person even used dandelions to colour in her drawing of a dandelion!
🌎 For Earth Day, we wrote love notes to the Earth on birch bark scrolls and left them in the park for others to enjoy, too!
🪚 The Adventure Out crew has been hard at work tending to their space outside of the city! They’ve been putting their skills to use, sawing logs and lashing them together to create usable furniture at their site.
🐦 More and more birds are returning, and one group wanted to spend their afternoon together bird-watching! They used our Bird Tally to take note of whether the birds were flying, swimming, sitting, walking or nesting.
🗺️ One of our Foxes groups was focused on mapping this week! The group started by looking at a City of Toronto Bike Map and then transitioned into making their own maps of their favourite places in the park.
🌱 Some groups have marked out their own Wild Garden spaces with sticks, which they’ll return to over the next few weeks and take note of what’s growing in the area that they marked out.
🌧️ Spring rain has brought different kinds of fun to programs! From tying tarps and practicing different knot techniques to building rain-proof shelters to creating bridges to cross big puddles. And of course, it wouldn’t be spring at Outdoor School without having fun in the mud!

April 13, 2024

The first few weeks of spring at Outdoor School have been jam-packed full of inspiration and adventure! We’ve been leaning into the rhythm of the season – here’s some of what we’ve been getting up to these past few weeks:
🐦‍⬛ It wouldn’t be spring without daily excitement about birds! So many groups have been leaning into the heightened bird activity, taking note of returning migratory birds and learning about what different bird calls mean. One Coyote Pups group got excited about the birds they were hearing, and since spring is the season for baby animals, they played a game in which an ‘adult bird’ had to keep their ‘baby birds’ safe from predators by using bird language alarm calls and contact calls!
🪺 Speaking of spring birds and babies, the Wilderkids group felt inspired after learning about how Baltimore Orioles make nests! They challenged themselves to build nests using similar weaving techniques using the natural materials they could find around them, like willow, leaf stems, tall grasses and mud.
🪻 The parks are in bloom! We’ve been spotting a bunch of different flowers popping up around us, and have been making sure to take the time to stop and observe their ephemeral beauty.
🐍 Birds aren’t the only more-than-human friends returning! We’ve also had a few snake sightings, have smelled skunks, and have seen chipmunks skittering around again.
🌧 Spring showers? Bring them on! Rainy days are perfect for working on our shelter-building skills. On a rainy day, the Foxes and Raccoons groups took into account things like the wind direction, what materials were available to them, the insulating properties of the materials, how many people needed to stay warm in their shelter, whether they needed it to be waterproof, etc. to determine their designs and got to work!
🧚 A Coyote Pups group found a note from a fairy who wasn’t convinced that it was spring yet and asked for their help to look for signs of spring. They found lots, including buds, plants, flowers, no ice in the pond, lots of mud, insects, birds and more! The Pups were convinced that it is officially spring, so they made homes for the fairy in the hopes that they come out and enjoy the season.
🦴 With winter behind us, it’s also a time of discovering things that were hiding beneath the snow. One group found some cool tiny bones under a tree and took an up-close look. They guessed how big the animal they belonged to might be and what part of the animal they were looking at.
Springtime is full of rapid change, and each day together in the park feels so different from week to week!

March 4, 2024

Aaaaand that’s the end of another great winter at Outdoor School! Some highlights from our last week & weekend together before the Spring break included:

🍁 How sweet! The warm days and cold nights have been leaving some tasty frozen treats hanging off the branches of Sugar Maple trees. Thank you, Maple Trees!
🧵 Some groups were introduced to Sumac, and they discovered the crafting potential of these beautiful trees! By poking out the pith from some branches, they were able to create beads that were strung onto necklaces, bracelets and more.
📍 One Foxes group worked on their mapping skills and discussed how they can use the land to remember the places they’ve been in the park. They worked together to turn a small rivulet under the bridge into a mini version of the Humber River – with the bridges and other landmarks included!
📗 Nature journaling was a huge inspiration! Getting to observe the Nature Museum and explore objects up close allowed for lots of minute details and differences to be noticed and journaled about.
🎯 Ropes galore! One group felt inspired to learn about different rope-tying techniques to create tripod targets for their throwing range, while our Weekend Wanderers groups all worked together to create one huge obstacle course to enjoy together.
💪 Adaptability was a big theme! Some days had us bundled up to keep cozy in the wind and snow, or braving the rain, and even wearing t-shirts during some sunny afternoons.
🤍 As we usually do on the last week of the season, many groups gathered together to share food and stories from the past few months together! We reflected on the fun, the challenges and all of the growth that happened this winter, and looked ahead to awaits us in the spring.

February 17, 2024

These past few weeks at Outdoor School have been so full of fun and adventure, we’re just now finding a moment to share about them:

🔥 Fire has been a HUGE inspiration for a lot of groups this winter! We’ve been practicing our friction fire skills through bow drills and hand drills – some groups are even in the process of collecting materials for their very own bow drill kits. Making hand-dipped beeswax candles is another way that groups have been interacting with fire! It’s brought out some great reflections, including: “Fire wants patience and if you give it to it, it will be your friend.” – 10 year old weekly participant
🦌 We’ve been feeling curious about animals – which ones hibernate, which ones are still active and hanging out in the parks with us, and how they all manage to stay warm and survive the winter. Some groups have been exploring where larger animals like deer might sleep, while others have been doing their best to create their own hibernation shelters. We’ve been talking about food caches, and playing lots of games inspired by this behaviour!
🦴 Things that would typically be hidden under the snow until spring have been revealed, including lots of fun skull and bone discoveries! One of our favourite types of nature mysteries.
🦝 Many games have been played, but one of our favourites has been a game called Raccoon Hands! Participants get blindfolded, and have to focus on what they’re feeling to try and guess what natural materials their group has collected. It’s a great way to tap into our less dominant senses!
🪢 We’ve been taking advantage of the warmer weather to practice survival skills using ropes! We’ve been learning about different knots and rope tying techniques, and some groups have been learning about and practicing the art of lashing and building stick structures.

January 22, 2024

This past weekend, our Teen Wilderness Adventure crew left Toronto to spend the weekend camping in a snowy winter wonderland! The cold temperatures didn’t stop us from having an amazing winter camping expedition – here’s a bit of what we got up to:

💪 After hiking and sledding in all of our gear and getting our canvas tents set up, the group still had lots of energy left to start building the firewood collection to keep us warm throughout the weekend. All of our hard teamwork paid off – we kept toasty warm all weekend, despite the temperatures ranging from -5 to -20!
🐾 With all of the snow, the group was able to go on some awesome snowshoeing adventures! The hikes included some wildlife tracking, of course, and a highlight was getting to see some evidence of otter slides in the snow. ❄️ The group had the chance to chat about ice safety and practice measuring the thickness of the ice around the perimeter of the beautiful lake on the land.
🌲 After doing some Winter Tree ID, we felt inspired to make a bed of boughs to sleep on top of for added warmth and comfort!
💚 At the end of the weekend, as we do at all programs, our group circled up and shared their takeaways and reflections from the weekend. There were lots of great things shared, including: “I want to work harder and be kinder.”

The next time we return to this land, the first signs of Spring will be all around us! We’re looking forward to getting to track all of the differences in the landscape and how it changes throughout the seasons.

January 19, 2024

This week at Outdoor School felt like true winter! With the coldest week of the year so far behind us, we’re excited to share all about our adventures together this week:

🐾 It wouldn’t be a week of winter at Outdoor School without talking about tracks! The snow this week had us following all different kinds of tracks together. Groups chatted about how to tell which track is the hind or front, different gaits, and of course, which tracks belong to whom! (We even had a few more coyote & bone sightings!)
❄ From observing ice floes by the river, to making frozen sun-catchers, to building and crafting with ice, to practicing walking like penguins along the icy ground… Ice was definitely the star of the show this week!
💙 Our Adventure Out crew was happy to return to their out-of-city site, and were greeted by lots of snow and tracks to follow. They returned to their base camp to see how it had changed since the winter break, warmed up by the fire, explored a nearby frozen creek and breathed in the air and the magical silence of a forest covered in snow!
🔥 The cold and ice often bring lots of fire inspiration, and our Monday Run Wild crew had the chance to practice their bow drill and hand drill skills together.
🗺️ A few groups chatted about how the park is changing almost every day! With the river freezing and water flooding into different areas of the park, some groups practiced their navigation skills and explored new paths to familiar favourite spots.

We ended the week feeling grateful for all of the adventures, and sharing our hopes that the snow and cold stick around a little longer! 🤞

January 13, 2024

After a short winter break, our Outdoor School programs returned this week! As always, the week was jam packed full of adventures, but some highlights include:

🦴 Cool animal sightings! Coyotes were a frequent sight this week, as many groups discovered a deer that has been the main food source for some of the local coyotes. There were a lot of great conversations about the food chain and what animals eat in the winter!
🐾 Tracks! With animal sightings comes plenty of fresh tracking adventures. Thanks to the snow, it was a lot easier to follow the paths of the friends we share the park with.
💚 Many groups shared about what they’re feeling most excited and inspired about returning to Pine, and felt inspired to share stories from the break.
❄️ And of course, we were thrilled to be back together again in the parks just in time for SNOW! Mostly, our week looked like this. ⛄️

December 9, 2023

Aaand that’s a wrap on another great fall season of Outdoor School! As groups gathered for the last time before the winter break, and many groups found themselves reflecting on the adventures and learnings from these past few months together, there was still no shortage of fun to be had. Here’s a bit of what we got up to:

❄️ Sometimes it rains, sometimes it snows, and sometimes it does both! One group practiced their tarp hanging skills and enjoyed stories together underneath, while others were greeted with a blanket of perfect packing snow to play with. Some groups even came together for multi-group games and an obstacle course as a way to keep warm and keep spirits high.
🐾 Wet mud and fresh snow both make for the perfect tracking adventures! One Coyote Pups group ventured to a new spot in the park and discovered a bunch of fresh tracks. And weren’t our Friday Foxes surprised when they found deer tracks all on their own! There was no doubt in their minds that they had found the track of a deer. It led to great discussions on what deer eat, use for shelter and how aware they are of our presence in the park, even if we don’t always see them.
🌿 This week, some groups wanted to spend their time continuing to work on old projects or starting new ones! With more slippery days surely ahead of us, getting started on the perfect walking stick was a big inspiration for many.
🌳 Our Adventure Out crew had a celebratory end-of-season fire, and read from Braiding Sweetgrass before going out on a reflective sit-spot. They shared their gratitude for the land they visit each week, and as one participant put it “”Time stops when we’re here and the space holds us in a beautiful way.””
💚 The last week together before a break sometimes includes a potluck celebration! Many groups enjoyed shared snacks, gratitude, songs and excitement for the adventures awaiting in the new year.

November 24, 2023

There’s no denying that Winter is on it’s way! This week was one of our chilliest weeks together yet, but that didn’t stop our Outdoor School groups from having a blast and making the most of our time together. Here’s what some of us got up to this week:
🪵 Nothing quite says relaxing after school like practicing some carving by a stream does! Our East End Run Wild program spent some time by the rock beach before dusk where they enjoyed carving and collecting rocks and other exciting treasures.
🕯 One Foxes group spent a lovely day outside playing games and creating candles. They learned a valuable lesson about patience and dedication to crafts. Those who spent more time in our Ancient Hunter throwing range tended to have smaller candles, while those who were consisted in their dipping tended to have more shapely and full candles. Both options were fine with the kids, but the conversation about input was definitely appreciated!
🌳 “My Roots go down, down into the earth…” One of our Coyote Pups groups had a wonderful time exploring the park and all the root structures do various plants and trees. Instructor Vincent was pleasantly surprised to see that one of our favourite trees aka “the Octopus Tree” had an almost identical root structure to one of our diagrams!
🧗 Another Coyote Pups group had a cold and rainy day ahead of them! Luckily, the group found some inspiration when they noticed few interesting looking tree branches for an obstacle course. With the help of a few backpacks they were able to create an exciting course that helped the kids keep moving and kept their spirits high!
🍄 Despite the cold, there’s still fungi to be found in the parks! One group and a fungi-filled day – check out their awesome finds.

November 17, 2023

This week at Outdoor School, one of our Coyote Pups groups felt extremely inspired by the critters that we’re lucky enough to share the woods with! 🐛🐞🦎🐌

The group started their day together by reading a story about Water Walkers, which prompted conversations about the importance of clean water. Not long afterwards, someone in their group spotted a dragonfly! Feeling excited about the discovery, the group got out one of their field guides and worked together to identify it – their best guess was a Yellow-Legged Meadowhawk. Letting their inspiration lead the way, the group then spent some time creating clay sculptures of other critters that they see in the parks, including salamanders, snails and slugs.

At Pine, we’re all about letting our inspirations guide the course of our time together. We can’t wait to see where our curiosities take us next week!

November 10, 2023

It felt like inspiration was around every corner this week at Outdoor School, and we have so many stories to share:

🔥 Our Adventure Out group practiced a lot of survival skills this week, working on some friction fire skills and shelter building! Getting to spend full days together outside of the city means that their group can work on long-term projects, like building shelters that they’ll get to enjoy together until June.
🦅 It was a big week for birds! Bald Eagle, Black Crowned Night Heron, and Sharp Shinned Hawk sightings left many groups feeling inspired. Some even created pine cone bird feeders!
💚 One group read part of a book called The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris. This lead into a sit spot on the land where participants got a chance to notice the beauty around them and write some short poems.
🪡 Many crafts were made – from cordage to acorn-cap necklaces! One group even made their own cordage song – “You Twist it, You spin it, you flip it!”
🖌 One Run Wild felt inspired by the different textures of the artwork in a Bill Martin JR and Eric Carle book. They decided to pay homage to the art by using only natural material for brushes and pallets. Their art explored predator-prey relationships, and this group was focussed on bear and salmon.
🧣 Coyote Pups often start off their circle with a song, snack and gratitude. This week, one group talked about daylight savings and their feeling about the shorter days. They decided to sing a Pine-favourite “Even Deep in Winter” by Stuart Stotts. With weather changing and temperatures dropping the group also talked about bringing warm clothing and how to incorporate layers, and how dressing for the weather is actually one way we can care of ourselves!

November 3, 2023

Fall weather has finally arrived! With cooler temperatures here to stay, this week was full of observations about the transition into this season and what it means – for us, and for the more-than-human friends we share the parks with. Here’s just a glimpse of what we got up to this week:

🧤 This week, some groups were also greeted by frost when they arrived at the park! Puddles had thin sheets of ice, and the small changes in season sparked great conversations on how we can change what we’re wearing to program to stay comfortable as the colder weather arrives.
🔥 One group was introduced to how to use the bow drill! Together, they were able to create smoke (and everyone agreed that the smell of cedar burning smells really good!).
🗺️ We’ve been noticing that the squirrels have been super busy preparing for the winter! A squirrel hid a bunch of its nuts around the forest, and it was up to one group to help find them using a map and some simple navigation techniques. Check out the cool map that they worked on together!
🪵 One of our Foxes groups got to spend some time carving! Many members of the group felt inspired to work on their very own custom-designed walking sticks. A project that they can work on for weeks to come!
🔍 One of our Instructors brought in a nature mystery fruit to program! A Coyote Pups worked together to identify it in a field guide (after decorating it with some of their snacks, of course). Say hello to Osage Orange!

October 23, 2023

Our Teen Wilderness Adventure program kicked-off this weekend! It was so special to spend a weekend outside of the city, getting to know one another and the beautiful land that we’ll be gathering on together this year. Here are some highlights from the weekend:
🛶Upon arriving at their out-of-city site, the group canoed and made their way through the woods to find a spot to build a new campsite near a small river.
🌳Together, they identified most of the tree species on the hill that they were camped on.
🔥The weekend was fairly rainy and cold, but the teens crew didn’t mind at all! It just inspired the group to work together to process enough firewood (thanks to the ironwood) to keep the fire in the hot tent burning all night long.
🦊 The group decided to split up to adventure, and one group tracked and followed the other group for almost an hour without being seen.
🎶We can’t forget to mention all of the singing! Songs were flowing like the waterfall we spent time with this weekend, and we’re still humming the tunes to some of our favourites that were shared.
🍂Fall is a great time for reflection, and we took the time to set and share goals for the rest of our year together.

We’re excited to spend a weekend in each season together at the same site, and are looking forward to seeing the way that the site changes throughout the seasons!

October 20, 2023

It was another great week to be outside, exploring the ravines and letting our curiosities guide us! Here’s a look at what happened at Outdoor School this week:

🧶 One group put their balancing and sneaking skills to the test as they navigated a ropes-obstacle course!
🐟 Salmon have been a big inspiration this week, with lots of groups spending time watching the salmon make their journey up the river!
🌧️ A Coyote Pups group took their rainy day as a great opportunity to practice hanging tarps to create a cozy space to enjoy their snack and read some books!
🍁 Noticing all of the fall colours, and how some leaves are green still while others are orange and yellow, one group talked about the life cycle of a leaf!
🌹Inspired by our Rose, Bud and Thorn practice – sharing something we enjoyed, something that felt challenging, and something that we’re looking forward to – a Coyote Pup felt inspired to create their very own flash cards!
🥒 Our Wilderkids group was lucky enough to spend some of their day learning how to preserve! They pickled a bunch of veggies and even made a delicious green tomato relish.

October 16, 2023

Our Weekend Wanderers program in the East end kicked off this weekend! Highlights from the weekend included:

🐦 Some of our Racoons (10-13 yo) group got inspired by birds and started working on some amazing nature journals!
🌿 One of our Foxes (7-9 yo) participants was excited to share their knowledge with their group on how to braid Dog Strangling Vine.
🐭 On Sunday, all of the groups joined together for an epic big group game of Hawk and Mouse!
🍵 One group’s closing circle involved sharing gratitude while also sharing some freshly foraged Cedar Tea. (The group also practiced their tarp set-up skills, just in case the rain decided to show up!)
💚 Our Teen Apprenticeship group began their journey of training and mentoring together!

October 13, 2023

It was another great week of Outdoor School! Instructors and participants agree – it’s the best time to be outside, exploring together and taking time to witness all of the fall beauty around us. Here’s a bit of what groups got up to this week:

🐦 Participants in our Wilderkids group were very excited about birds! Using binoculars and field guides, they spent time in an area where many small birds were flitting about, trying to ID them.
📝One group also got to make some special monthly nature journals that they will use during programs to record things they’ve seen, draw tracks and plants, and maybe share some special poems or songs with the land.
🦴The Adventure Out group explored a different section of forest, and practiced expanding their senses to guide them on their sit spots! While exploring their new site, they came across a few mystery bones, and spent some time trying to identify which animals they might have belonged to. They also found a beautiful creek and sang a song to it as thanks for letting them explore its beauty.
🎣The crafting continued! Some groups began to learn the carving rules and started their first projects, while others made natural fishing rods to play with.

October 6, 2023

And just like that, our first week of Outdoor School programs wrapped up today! We feel so grateful to be back exploring the parks together. Here’s a glimpse into what happened this week:

🌻 At Pine, we’re all about engaging with our different senses! One group went on a scavenger hunt for different colours, textures and smells around the park.
🪹 Many of our groups made or started a variety of crafts this week, including a Coyote Pups group that used burdock leaves to create little baskets!
💚 We revisited our community agreements – to take care of ourselves, others and nature – and each took some time to set an intention for the season ahead of us. To learn a new skill, play more, and approach conflict with curiosity were some of the intentions that we set.
🌾 With all the energy that the warm weather brought, lots of games were played. One of our groups played a round of ‘will it burn?’, which involves finding small pieces of natural materials and testing to see how well they burn. This can help us know what materials might work when building tinder bundles!
🍁 Some groups made lists of familiar plants and animals that they recognized. One group even started a group journal/scrapbook to document their year together!
🦌 To top it off, many groups this week saw deer, salmon and one group even got to see a vulture scavenging on the opposite shore from them.