Sustainable Wellness: Embedding Nature with Learning


Netulkulimk – Mi’kmaq for Sustainability

“I heard love”, exclaimed one of our students when asked about listening to the nature surrounding us. During our most recent school venture into the nearby forest, the sheer joy experienced by the children was evident with smiles, shrieks, giggles, hushes and expressions of wonder as they explored the magic of the outdoors.


It’s no surprise that their fascination for exploring life outside our walls has led to such happiness. In fact, regular learning opportunities outside lead to healthy and happy bodies and minds, positive social attributes, independent creative learners, and contributing global citizens (Kinver, 2016).  The love for learning about the world outside our doors can indeed lead to a sustainable sense of well-being. Albert Marshall, Elder advisor, speaks to this when he says that sustainability happens when our children get a chance to reconnect to where our source of life comes from, namely the forest. Netulkulimk is the Mi’kmaq way to explain sustainability and to encourage all to “appreciate and maintain the connection to the source of life” (Marshall, 2013). In our near daily excursions to the forests, ditches, beaches, gardens and fields, we see and hear evidence of this as our children beg us to let them stay there forever! The forest visit led to comments such as,”My body (feels) good because there’s air”, “It’s nice and cozy in here; it’s like a pillow”, “It’s the best nature adventure we’ve ever had!” and, “I don’t want to leave this nest; I want to stay in it forever”.


The social ecology model outlined by Mulligan (2014) shows the need for an environmental, social and personal interconnection in order to build a capacity for sustainability.  According to Mulligan (2014) this includes society “exploring their personal relationships with natural ecosystems and various human communities” (p.5). With education being immersed in the world outside our doors, we increase our chances of sustainability in that our children are learning about nature, consuming less, and building community with one another as they explore, create and just “be” amongst the birds chirping, trees swaying and skies floating above them. Their practice with self-regulation adds to their wellness by experiencing peaceful hearts in our class circle (folding arms over one another and bringing hands back up to their hearts), balancing on logs, taking turns, navigating through prickly trees, and learning to take it all in with their senses. Children who might struggle within a school building, can shine in the outdoor environment as they run, climb and seem to have an innate understanding of the wilderness around them . Kashin points out that,”in nature, a child will find infinite possibilities for learning and development” (2016).

Stephen Sterling (2004) suggests that “…the move toward sustainability invokes a cultural paradigm committed to equipping our youth with the ability to comprehend that the way they view the world is central to how they will treat it” (Hensley). In planning, planting, nurturing, harvesting and enjoying the food from our raised garden beds at school, our students learn to appreciate the earth in a way which differs from simply reading about it in a classroom.  Our recent “baked potato day” is a profound example of sustainable wellness.  The entire school was asked to bring a fork (to avoid handing out plastic), and children in each class helped to wash, cut and wrap the potatoes for over 200 people.  Parent volunteers joined to help cook and hand out the potatoes, with each person having an opportunity to appreciate and enjoy the food we grew as a school. The foil wrap was then collected and taken to a recycling depot in a nearby city, so as to reduce any waste.  Looking back to when the children harvested the potatoes, the excitement was contagious!  They all wanted to dig and see who could pull out the largest potatoes.  The “jackpot potato”, a phrase coined by our grade 3-4 students, was large enough to spill over the size of their hands!


In Garrett’s article on the Reggio Emilia approach to education, children are seen as competent and valuable contributors to their own learning (2013). Parents, educators and the environment are the teachers with the children learning through their hundred languages including “innovation, nature, construction, fantasy, art, music, dance, building, writing, talking, signing, science, body and soul” (KLA Schools).  Not only are we teaching sustainability, we are providing opportunities for children to explore learning that is unique to their passions and share it in a way that lends to their creative expressions.  With our environment as the third teacher, our school has made committed efforts to not only include the classroom environment, but the world beyond as well.  Our students continuously share concrete examples of their love for learning. As we guide their inquiry, we hope to provide the best learning possible both indoors and out.  Ultimately, we hope to create a future generation of global citizens with a sense of overall well-being.

In the words of two children, as they blew kisses to the forest left behind for the day,  “I’m sending my love to nature”.  What a beautiful beginning…!


By:  Kelly Milne, B.Ed., Post Bacc. in Ed. Couns.


A. Marshall.  Mi’kmaq Elder Albert Marshall explains “Netukulimk”.  Retrieved from

D. Kashin. (2016, July 23). Now Trending in Early Childhood Education: Nature! Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research.  Retrieved from childhood-education-nature/

Garret, Rose. (2013, July 15). What is Reggio Emilia?  Retreived from

Hensley, Nathan. The Scholarship of Sustainability. Retrieved from…/mod/resource/view.php

Kinver, Mark.  (2016, July 15). Outdoor learning ‘boosts children’s development’.  Science Environment. Retrieved from 

KLA Schools for early childhood education.  Educational Approach.  Retrieved from

Mulligan, Martin. (2014).  An Introduction to Sustainability. Retrieved from…/mod/resource/view.php


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s