Nature Playground at SSES


The Playground is Calling

The sun is warm and the sky is bright. It’s a day to celebrate as we look ahead to the continued journey of our nature playground at SSES in Gimli, MB. With the embedded sustainability beliefs, the Reggio Emilia Philosophy, and the environment as the third teacher, the nature playground is the natural next step at our school. Rosanna Cuthbert, principal of SSES, confirms the importance of the sustainable playground as she states that  “we eagerly anticipate how our natural play space will enhance not only our students’ human health and well-being, but the entire community” (2016). Cuthbert’s visit to a local daycare learning center added inspiration as it showed examples of green space within a city.  The Discovery Center in Winnipeg, MB displayed outdoor gardens, treed areas, boulders to climb and programs such as “Field and Forest Nursery School”, where most of the day is held outside (

Look deep into nature and you will understand everything.

Albert Einstein

With Cuthbert’s leadership and inspiration, the SSES school community had an integral role in the development of ideas for the playground with collaborative discussions amongst students and staff. The student’s visions were recorded with illustrations and writing to capture the dreams they had of a natural play space. Their documentation of ideas and learning about nature also continued to be featured in the SSES blog with videos, art and writing capturing their love of the outdoors (  A nature playground committee also helped give way to the beginnings of an inspirational playground.



Wisdom begins in wonder.


With a government music grant, local artist, Kate Ferris, was able to collaborate with our school to create a song which captured the student’s excitement and love of nature. The song emulates the passion our school has for the environment and the beauty of all that it holds. Listen to the song at to hear the magic and inspiration in their voices and words as the children sing about playing outside.

As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.

John Muir

Despite all of the beauty and excitement surrounding the playground venture, there were obstacles encountered. For instance, Cuthbert shared how it was important to help shift mindsets around an idea that was not considered mainstream.  For example, having boulders in the playground included planning with a Provincial Risk Manager for playgrounds to ensure the safety of children. Finding a designer who also held the same vision was of paramount concern.  The team was in search of a designer that could capture the dreams for a natural space that they had envisioned, and one was found in Bienenstock ( He understood that a tree house made of plastic was not the nature playground we sought after. After all, we wanted a space where students would explore, learn to self-regulate, engage with their peers and feel healthy and inspired by the nature surrounding them.  Luckily, Bienenstock was a designer who shared the same inspiration of bringing nature into play and he had ideas that fit with the dreams our school had imagined (



The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.

e.e. cummings

Obtaining financial support is a continued goal for the SSES nature playground.  Noventis and Kiwanis of Gimli have embraced the idea of a natural space for the school families and the community as a whole. Cuthbert is continuing to seek out grants and donations to enable the project to come full circle.

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.

William Shakespeare

The playground is a dream that will become reality with the plan to start digging in the summer of 2017. The benefits are endless with quality time spent with loved ones, clear minds in the fresh air, and the inspiration that leads to healthier bodies and minds (Cuthbert, 2016). It will be a place for gathering and joy. Aristotle captured it eloquently when he said, “There is something of the marvelous in all things of nature”. Indeed there is.



Go out, go out I beg of you

And taste the beauty of the wild.

Behold the miracle of the earth

With all the wonders of a child.

Edna Jaques






Bienenstock on CTV.

Discovery Centre.

Nature Quotes – Inspirational Nature Quotes – Global Stewards>naturequotes

SSES Blog.

SSES Concert.



Goodbye to The Joneses…


Affluenza No More

October 24, 2016

I can honestly say that my exposure to the Fundamentals of Sustainability course at CBU has been eye opening, to say the least.  I find myself questioning myself daily on usual habits, such as reaching into my overflowing closet, using sandwich baggies for lunch, and looking at my iPhone for the fiftieth time. The consumer habits we face are part of a social phenomenon known as affluenza – basically the desire to keep up with the Joneses with the assumption that acquiring more and better “stuff” will increase happiness and give the perception of affluence. It actually has the opposite affect with relationships suffering, bank debts rising and people exhausted from overworking in an effort to pay for their increasingly complicated lifestyles (Mathison, 2012).  I know we all could do better, and I plan to.  I really do.


I started reducing my ecological footprint, also known as my environmental impact, before these journal entries began (Mulligan, 2015). My first goal was to stop buying so much stuff! And I mean, a lot of stuff.  Each week since October 8th, I resisted buying simple things like another lip balm or more clothes for my already unlimited supply. It’s still a work in progress and I’ve been successful thus far. Many advertising images, emails, alerts and radio commercials still bombard my day and so I’ll make a conscious change to alter my settings, unsubscribe from retail emails and play my music playlist instead of the radio. These may seem small, but I hope they make a difference.


October 27, 2016

Unsubscribe. This is want I want to do. In fact this is what I have done to all of my retail email subscriptions, yet they keep on coming! I suppose it may take a week or two, but I am hopeful to see a change in this very soon.

The more difficult mail to stop is the letter mail containing advertisements highlighting pre-sale events, special customer only days, and one day only door crasher sales. I found one such advertisement when I opened a letter from the car dealership where I bought my car five years ago.  Much to my excitement, I opened up the letter to see an offer to trade in my slowly rusting car for a brand new one with a special rebate only for me (and a few other ‘special’ customers).  How exciting! I would be crazy not to take them up on their offer!  Wouldn’t I?

You’d be happy to know that  I didn’t rush down there or jump on the wagon the next day or week to trade in my car, but it seems that many of the other “special customers” might have. Afterall, we are bombarded by advertisements daily to buy the next best thing so that our lives may be better (Porritt, 2011).  According to Mulligan, this is part of the consumer issue that is enveloping our communities and world. Planned obsolescence and addictive consumerism both have had negative ramifications on the sustainability of our world’s resources (2015). Planned obsolescence leaves the consumer with a product that is sure to reach it’s demise sooner than ever before, thereby creating a cycle of consuming even more products since the recently purchased ones end up in the trash (Mulligan, 2015).

It would seem my parents really did know what they were talking about when they’d argue that they didn’t need a new couch (even though they’d had it for over 20 years).  After all, the products of the past were meant to last for generations before malfunctioning or breaking down. The products of today can be obsolete as soon as the next, improved items appear, causing another dimension to the over consumption cycle (Mulligan, 2015).

Way Back When…

October 30, 2016

I recall my parent’s stories of growing up, having much less and surviving all the same. My mom would walk to the corner water pump to retrieve fresh water when needed, much to her admitted embarrassment (she hoped desperately for running water in their home). I only experienced this form of reduced access to water when I used to camp in a tent or a camper with no additional hook-up options available. I imagine their water consumption would have been limited and used wisely, for the heavy trek was not my mom’s favorite past time. I know it was for us during those particular camping trips, where filtering and boiling water for each use was a greater chore than simply turning on our taps.

My dad shared Christmas stories to help pass on the feeling of gratefulness. Each year he and his siblings would receive an orange and a toy of some sort, be it a wooden car or truck. christmasThey would be so excited and grateful and head outdoors to play and delight in their new toy. In this day and age, a piece of fruit and one toy would likely leave many children feeling deprived and heartbroken.  We know they aren’t born to think that way, yet they learn it from the  consumption habits we portray in our homes and those of the world around them. How do we get back to the simple life?  Voluntary Simplicity is one way, and is a conscious effort to live with less, thereby reducing waste and complexity in life (Mulligan, 2015).

These memories of days past came up with the realization that Christmas is approaching. My children basically start talking about Christmas shortly after their birthdays (summer and fall), and it stems from the never ending pursuit of the next best gadget or object of desire. They simply want what they don’t need (Etzioni, 2012). I have often waited on purchasing any of these must haves, and gladly so.  You see, once the days, weeks and months pass, they have forgotten all about that much needed item, and have moved onto others.  This makes buying their gifts a very time and thought consuming effort because I need to think extensively about what they actually need and what would be a meaningful, appreciated gift. I hope to model the voluntary simplicity quest with each day so that my children will notice and begin to see the happiness and value in living with less.

2015  Mantitoba Excellence in Sustainability 

November 1, 2016

Walking into Sigurbjorg Stefansson Early School in Gimli, MB feels like I’ve walked into a spa retreat. Each day I have the privilege to be a member of the school community, as the guidance counsellor and resource teacher, that is not only so inviting, but so ecologically aware as well. As the recipients of the 2015 Manitoba Excellence in Sustainability award, let me explain what this looks like. It starts with a nature playground in the making outside the school doors. Once in the hallway, you notice children’s art of varying genres displayed without any extra paper bling (no bulletin strips and borders necessary). The continued hallway has natural elements displayed, such as tree cookies, stumps and rocks, along with rich children’s literature enhancing social justice and equity.


Once I go into any classroom, nature is in abundance.  From pine cones to mini fairy gardens, the students are learning to appreciate, love and take care of nature. They talk about being kind and caring citizens and about harvesting in a careful manner when on nature explorations. They reuse writing journals and documentation books each year until the pages are full and a new one is necessary. Essentially we use paper with purpose and have made a drastic reduction in our overall paper consumption.

Compost and recycling containers are in every class and staff room, with each person playing a role in taking care of our school and our environment.  The compost is then distributed to our raised garden beds where we grow our own food. The crops are planned, planted, nurtured, harvested and shared with community in mind. Families help water and weed during summer holidays and they join us again for the preparation and sharing of our harvest throughout the year. Technology is seen as an avenue for growth and learning and students are taught to be digital citizens with lessons on using Twitter posts as meaningful sharing of learning, rather than random posts of pictures that have little significance for the group as a whole.

Essentially my school has had a tremendous impact on the way I view a work environment. I see it like my home, where I take care and help it to feel like a place I want to be.  I make sure to compost food and recycle where I can, thereby reducing my level of waste. I explore the outdoors with my students and bring more natural materials into my classroom versus plastics. In doing so, the school has become a special place for all of us to be.  The students and staff feel happy and safe- they essentially want to be there. They feel they are valued and important contributors of sustainability for our school and home community. I’m in a good place.

To Market!

November 3, 2016

I had a grappling feeling that my cupboards contained more items shipped from around the world, than those of local producers. As such, I took inventory and found I was correct. My food selections were mostly bought at the local grocery store chain, and sometimes at the larger shopping venues outside our community.With this in mind, I read the labels and saw the names of places from across Canada to across the oceans.

foodSumners was on point when she said, “The grapes that sit upon the shelf are mute; we cannot see the fingerprints of exploitation upon them or tell immediately what part of the world they are from” (2005). The last thing I want to do is to support exploited labor and the corporations that benefit from it.

The June to September months usually lend way to my more sustainable purchases.  For example, I visit a local market that supplies fresh vegetables, homemade wares, and baked goods – all from just down the road. The market is not only sustainable for our environment, and health, but also for the social/ emotional wellness that accompanies it.  I run into friends, co-workers, students, parents and essentially converse with several other friendly marketers. All of these interactions leave me with a sense of belonging and community and are part of what builds into the sustainable civil commons, namely the social aspect (Sumner, 2005).

I plan to look closer at the labels of food products as I move forward.  I can look for Fair Trade items and seek out local groups for products that are produced near to home. This will take extra time, I’m sure. However, the implications for the betterment of the environment as a whole will surely be ones of positive growth and sustainability.

We Will Travel Hopefully…

November 5, 2016

I must admit that my fiance is wondering who has invaded my very being, as he watches my transformation and listens to my stories of the environment and the very nature of the materialistic society we live in. After all, he knows I love to shop (or should I say, used to love to shop)!

I must also admit that it fits perfectly with his already formed interest in consuming less and living simply, but happily together.  We picture a just right-sized home in retirement, possibly a “tiny home”, as so often advertised. Oh no! I am still influenced by media…, but I am humble enough to realize and admit that I will not be perfect at this.  I will fall into error and perhaps buy a shirt because the color is perfect, or purchase the oranges, even if they did travel a ridiculous distance because I need fresh fruit for lunches and I have less than ten minutes to buy them and get home.

Despite my failings, I can say for certainty that my efforts will be sincere, meaningful and with purpose to achieve a sustainable community and future. You see, I don’t want the rest of my life to be one of endless consumption, without consequence. As for my children, they should not have to grow up endlessly searching for the good life and competing with the Joneses. Instead they should see the value in working for the greater good, supporting local business, finding happiness and wellness in the simple things, love and nurture the beautiful nature encapsulating their world every day, and take a stand to be a change agent in the ever changing world around them (Mulligan, 2015).

beach2Essentially I want them to travel hopefully, and perhaps just wave at the Joneses as they pass them by. Robert Louis Stevenson’s statement poetically captured it when he said, “To travel hopefully…is better than to arrive” (Mulligan, 2015).




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




Etzioni, Amitai. (2012). You Don’t Need to Buy This.

Mathison, M. (2012).  Emancipation from Affluenza: Leading Social Change in the Classroom.  Unpublished dissertation Antioch University.

Mulligan, Martin. (2015).  An Introduction to Sustainability: Environmental, Social and Personal Perspectives.  New York, NY: Routledge.

Porritt, Johantan (2012). The Trap of Materialism.

Sumner, Jennifer. (20o5).  Sustainability and the Civil Commons: Rural Communities in the Age of Globalization.  Toronto, Canada:  Unverrsity of Toronto Press Incorporated.

The Story of Stuff: Film and Website.




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