Think back to your childhood and moments spent outside: the wonderful squish of mud between your toes; the scurrying of bugs racing to escape an overturned log; the serious focus of building that perfect snow fort; the concern and effort made to help a turtle cross a road.
These moments stay with us for a lifetime. And so does their impact. Spending time exploring our natural world in our childhood and youth not only creates rich, meaningful memories but becomes the building blocks for our health and well-being into adulthood.
Pathway to Stewardship and Kinship promotes and supports healthy childhood development, community connection and environmental stewardship through building an early and ongoing relationship with nature.
At the heart of Pathway is a vision of local culture where citizens feel connected to and care for each other, their community, and the beautiful Kawarthas region, of which they are a part.
For an understanding of how this project was developed, including contributors and Ontario curriculum links, please review the Pathway to Stewardship & Kinship Guide, (2017).
Our community, like many others, is full of wonderful people doing great work. Too often, this work happens in isolated pockets, missing a connecting link of common purpose that leaves us feeling isolated and overwhelmed. In 2014, Camp Kawartha’s Jacob Rodenburg started discussions among environmental educators to seek common themes that foster stewardship among children at various stages of their development.
We soon realized that nurturing caring, connected young people is directly linked to physical and mental health, community mentorship and creative expression. The wisdom of regional Indigenous cultures enriched our understanding and perspectives about how we can foster positive relationships with the natural world. Interest continued to expand to more parts of the community.
Through local support, we held 80 interviews with community leaders to find memories from their childhoods that built deep connections with their world. Coupled with research and advice from experts across North America, we developed a series of 30 “Landmark” experiences: simple building blocks for children and youth.
During 2018 and 2019, the Pathway’s Landmark activities were pilot-tested with more than 1,500 children in early years centres and elementary schools in both urban and rural settings in the Greater Peterborough Region. Teachers, caregivers, families and community groups worked hard to integrate landmark activities into the lives of these children and their families. They have provided excellent feedback for fine-tuning the project.
In the eight short months of pilot testing, participants reported amazing support and progress:
- all elementary educators increased outdoor time with their classes
- all Grade 1-2 classes participated in gardening activities (up from 44%)
- all Grade 3-4 classes tried new outdoor activities, including exploring a wetland (88%, up from 43%), and exploring a meadow (88%, up from 50%)
- all Grade 5-6 classes visited a public park (up from 67%), and an outdoor education centre (up from 78%)
- all Grade 7-8 classes participated in a multicultural event (up from 29%), 80% explored a stream together (up from 14%), and 60% helped with a habitat improvement project (up from 29%)
Pilot Community Surveys
Surveys completed by participants resulted in a comprehensive Pilot Community Survey Report, released in the fall of 2019. This report shows considerable interest in increasing outdoor and Landmark-linked activities both at home and at school, and a widespread need for sharing ideas and skills. Current efforts are focused on strengthening community supports and mechanisms for sharing ideas.
After the success of pilot-testing, the next goal is ambitious – to roll out the project community-wide, so that every child shares each Landmark experience as they grow. We believe that every child has the right to be healthy, to care about and feel connected to their world, and to be nurtured by a community that cares about them.
We were fortunate to receive three years of funding support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation early in 2020 to expand the project throughout the community. In spite of restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve made incredible progress in the Peterborough region between 2020 and 2023.
We’ve worked with 15 Early Learning Centres and 21 Elementary Schools, providing incentives and supports to encourage outdoor learning and community connections. We set up a reporting system where participants could report their activities and accumulate points for their efforts. Working together with participants and our many partner organizations, we logged an incredible 62,591 Landmark experiences during the three year period! What an incredible testament to the power of working together towards a common purpose!
We’ve documented the process and showcased the fantastic community efforts in our book, released in autumn 2023, ‘On the Pathway to Stewardship and Kinship‘. We hope this will be an excellent resource for other communities taking on a similar challenge.
Please contact us with questions, or to request a print copy of the Pathway book.
We are grateful to the Ontario Trillium Foundation for supporting this project.