Embracing Outdoor Pedagogy in the Early Childhood Curriculum with Professor Brenda Huff | St. Clair College
Friday, February 23, 2024
ECE class outdoors

Professor Brenda Huff, Program Coordinator in Early Childhood Education (ECE), has revolutionized traditional early childhood education by incorporating outdoor pedagogy to diversify the ECE curriculum. The outdoor labs project, commenced in fall 2022, has garnered attention and praise from educators nationwide. St Clair College Chatham Campus is one of 10 colleges in Canada that are part of the Outdoor Pedagogy ECE Faculty Research Project in year 2 led by Okanagan College, started in fall 2022. This is an action research project focused on enhancing outdoor pedagogy in ECE postsecondary programs.

Huff provided the inspiration for the outdoor project.

"I started to think more about how we could include children in this outdoor lab, to give students the opportunity to bring their theory to practice. Also, how it prepares students for a big part of their ECE professional practice. Licensed childcare must be outdoors one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon, weather permitting. In fact, we are encouraging all-weather classes as ECE graduates need to work with children in all weather in their professional practice. This outdoor work takes us beyond the four walls of the traditional college classroom," Huff said.

The project delves into the abilities and essentials for crafting and executing outdoor educational experiences for young children. Engaging in diverse activities both in and out of traditional classroom settings, participants will cultivate an appreciation for the enduring educational opportunities present in natural surroundings, fostering a culture of lifelong learning.
Huff explained the application of the outdoor initiative.

"The implementation for the ECE Outdoor Lab was introduced in Winter 2022. The new course, ECE400 Outdoor Education class, was written by Dr. Kathryn Markham-Petro when she was a full-time ECE Professor at the main Windsor campus. I started teaching this class at the Chatham campus and was inspired to ask my Chair Mark Benoit for a space to hold the class primarily outdoors during that first offering of the class," Huff said.

From its inception, the goals of the outdoor labs were ambitious yet concise. Huff aimed to immerse students in a wealth of outdoor experiences to strike a necessary balance with the conventional indoor classes. Funding was received from Clair College Alumni, Municipality of Chatham Kent, and YMCA Chatham Kent Foundation to finance the procurement of preliminary equipment and material for the project.

The project's success has been remarkable, marked by substantial growth and impactful partnerships with YMCA Indian Creek Childcare, a learning and teaching hub, other local schools, and childcare centers. The ECE curriculum now includes kindergarten children visiting the outdoor lab from a local elementary school, with four kindergarten classrooms visiting on a rotating basis from
 St Angela Merici and a preschool classroom from Ridge K.I.D.S St Angela Merici licensed childcare center.

As the Early Childhood program evolves, Huff remains steadfast in her commitment to pushing the boundaries of traditional education. With her unwavering dedication to outdoor pedagogy, Huff is not only reshaping the landscape of ECE but also inspiring educators worldwide to embrace innovative approaches to teaching and learning. Her future goals include integrating Indigenous teachings through more partnerships with local knowledge keepers, expanding the raised garden bed project with the incorporation of Indigenous plants to support Carolinian Zone.

The ECE program at St Clair College is available at the main Windsor and Chatham campuses. The program is designed to equip students with the skills and knowledge necessary to excel in educating the nation's children, with recent additions such as Outdoor Education further enhancing the curriculum.

Learn more about our Early Childhood Education program visit https://www.stclaircollege.ca/programs/early-childhood-education.

Written by Jae Appleby