Earth Day is a time to appreciate all that’s happening locally.

Peterborough Examiner  – April 21, 2023 – by Drew Monkman

When I think back to my childhood, so much of what I recall were  moments spent outside: the joy of catching frogs and turtles; the excitement of evening grosbeaks coming to the feeder I made with my father; and all the satisfaction of building forts in the woods. These are moments that have stayed with me for a lifetime.And so has their impact.Spending time exploring the natural world in one’s childhood becomes no less than the foundation for a life-long environmental ethic.

However, with Earth Day 2023 upon us, there’s no lack of reasons for despair about the state of the environment. It’s easy to ask yourself, “Does anyone really care?” Well, the answer is a resounding YES. And we need look no further than all of the wonderful initiatives happening locally, especially when it comes to environmental education in all its forms.

Thanks to the people and organizations I’ll tell you about this week, we are helping a new generation – one growing up in a screen-filled world so different from my own childhood – to enjoy rich experiences with nature and, hopefully, to care deeply about its preservation. We are also fostering environmental leaders, and this should inspire every one of us.    

Camp Kawartha – It’s hard to exaggerate the importance of Camp Kawartha and its broad range of innovative, year-round programs. Under the leadership of Executive Director Jacob Rodenburg and Outdoor Education Manager Neil Fortin, Camp Kawartha’s reach is huge. In a normal year, the Camp reaches almost 17,000 people through its facilities and programs both on- and off-site. The Outdoor Education Centre on Clear Lake offers more than 60 curriculum-linked outdoor and environmental education programs. Its mission is no less than to activate and empower students to become environmental stewards. New this year is an outreach initiative in which Camp staff go to schools to do programs in the schoolyard. They are also providing workshops to train teachers on how to use the schoolgrounds as an extension of the classroom.   

Camp Kawartha Environmental Education Centre – Located next to the Trent University Wildlife Sanctuary, the Centre delivers over 40 environmental education programs to school groups. Environment Centre Manager Craig Brant has also developed programs for home schoolers like Earth Healers, where the focus is on plant connection and medicine from the land. In addition to showcasing green architecture and alternative energy, the Centre serves as a training ground for future environmental educators. In collaboration with the School of Education at Trent University, the Centre has developed an Eco-mentor program for students from Trent University, Fleming College and now, thanks to an on-line initiative, from across Canada.

Students taking part in a wetland study at Camp Kawartha with instructor Neil Fortin (Drew Monkman)

Pathway to Stewardship and Kinship – Led by Camp Kawartha and Coordinating Consultant Cathy Dueck, Pathway promotes and supports healthy childhood development, community connection and environmental stewardship by building an early and ongoing relationship with nature. A series of 30 “Landmark” nature experiences have been developed for students which serve as nature-connection building blocks. Volunteers like members of the Peterborough Field Naturalists are key to delivering these experiences. The uptake has been tremendous with 125 classes and 11 day care centres having already taken part in Landmark activities. In fact, more than 50,000 activities have already been recorded. There is even a Pathway app. Among the most active schools in Pathway programs are Queen Elizabeth, Kawartha Heights, and R.F. Downey. Unfortunately, Pathway funding is running out, so the project is looking for ways to continue.  

GreenUp – GreenUP, too, offers programs and services to help children get closer to nature. These include class visits to Ecology Park, Earth Adventures Summer Camp, and the Peterborough Children’s Water Festival. The organization also offers climate action resources for schools and operates the GreenUp Ecology Park Native Plant and Tree Nursery, a project started over 30 years ago by Cathy Dueck.

KPR Outdoor Education Centres – The Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board runs four outdoor education centres which host hundreds of classes every year. At these centres, students get hands-on experience in environmental studies. A qualified naturalist, such as Sharon McGee at the Warsaw centre, works in co-operation with the teacher.

Rowan Tree Children School – Founded in 2004 by Jessica Lindeman, Rowan Tree currently offers a preschool program, a Waldorf-inspired Nature Kindergarten class, and a Nature Elementary program.     Each of these integrates nature into the curriculum at every turn. The kids spend at least half of their time outside exploring Jackson Park. With wonderful teachers like Glen Caradus, Rowan Tree supports the development of the whole child (head, heart, and hands) through nature immersion.

Compass Early Learning Centre – An umbrella organization for a number of day care providers, CELC is making great strides in teaching their educators how to connect small children to nature. They are a licensed TimberNook provider, a program to get children outdoors to enjoy sensory-rich experiences and to engage in authentic outdoor play.  

Peterborough Field Naturalists – The PFN offers junior field naturalist activities geared for ages 5 to 12. In January, for example, a Christmas Bird Count for Kids was held. The PFN is one of the largest and most active naturalist clubs in Ontario. A large part of the credit for the club’s success goes to Martin Parker, a past president and true “force of nature”!

Think Outside – Nancy Thomson, a.k.a. “Nature Nancy”, started her outdoor education business to provide site-specific nature programming for children of all ages. She uses the school yard or a nearby greenspace to teach curriculum based outdoor education. Nancy focuses on making strong connections both with nature and with each other.

Outdoor play like building forts is integral to the development of lifelong environmental ethic (Drew Monkman)

Youth Leadership in Sustainability – Cameron Douglas, a KPR high school teacher, has initiated a deeply meaningful response to our biggest global challenge, namely climate change. YLS is an experiential-learning program that prepares grade 11 and 12 students for leadership roles in sustainability initiatives. The emphasis is on field trips to learn about issues like energy, food, biodiversity and climate change. The class attended and made a presentation at the COP 15 climate conference in Montreal in December.   

Riverview Park and Zoo –  Among many other programs, the zoo teams up with the Otonabee Region Conservation Authority to offer the Roberta Bondar Challenge, a two-day summer camp that connects students to nature through the art of photography.  

Kawartha Land Trust – In addition to KLTs wonderful work in land protection – 31 properties and 5,250 acres at last count – Thom Unrau, the Director of Community Conservation, is working on an inventory of greenspaces near schools which classes can easily access. KLT is also working to make its lands more suitable for environmental education purposes.   

Otonabee Region Conservation Authority –  In addition to partnering on the Roberta Bondar Challenge (see above) Otonabee Conservation staff work with local teachers to develop and deliver programs that are tailored to a class’s specific needs. These can include a full day outdoor session on themes such as habitat, biodiversity, wetlands and watershed stewardship.

Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre – The OTCC offers a strong outreach and education program. In fact, the organization actually started due to the efforts of children who took action on helping turtles. OTCC is now booking private tours of the Outdoor Education Area as well as Virtual Tours and events. Contact the Education Team by going to

Monarch Ultra –Under the leadership ofCarlotta James, the Monarch Ultra is a long-distance running initiative that is raising awareness about the plight of monarch butterflies and pollinators in general. In addition to running events, a celebratory and educational Monarch Butterfly Festival is being planned for this fall. The organization also gave Camp Kawartha $10,000 which is helping immensely with school-based programing.

Paddling Puppeteers – For the past 20 years, local musicians Phil Stephenson and Glen Caradus have been touring Canada with their nature and history based musical puppet shows. In addition to being an outdoor educator, Glen has recorded several albums of original sing-along songs that inspire kids to care about nature. 

This is by no means a comprehensive list. It would be easy to go on and talk about the plethora of other local organizations and individuals who are doing tremendous work. Among these are the Fleming College and Trent University with their many environmental programs (Mark Dickinson’s “Canada: The Land” class being one stellar example), the Endeavour Centre and its work on sustainable building and, of course, For Our Grandchildren and its tireless leadership on climate change awareness and solutions. Clearly, there is much to give us hope.

Drew Monkman

I am a retired teacher, naturalist and writer with a love for all aspects of the natural world, especially as they relate to seasonal change.