The new St. Clair College ECE Outdoor Lab, located at the Chatham Campus, is an outdoor teaching area that offers a firsthand learning opportunity for ECE faculty, students, children, and our community. The outdoor lab extends the teaching space and allows students to gain practical learning experiences. The ECE Outdoor lab received funding from three partners: Municipality of Chatham-Kent, Chatham Kent YMCA Foundation, and St. Clair College Alumni Association.
The Municipality of Chatham-Kent funded the new lab set in a dedicated space outside the Mary Uniac building on St. Clair Colleges Chatham Campus. In the newly funded lab, the ECE students will host classes for both theory and practice based on moving the theory of outdoor research into practice. ECE students have an opportunity to conduct experiential learning in the outdoor lab on an individual basis, with peers, and with the ECE Faculty.
In the Fall of 2022, Dr. Beverlie Dietze, Director of Learning and Applied Research at Okanagan College, invited St Clair College Chatham Campus to become part of the Outdoor Pedagogy ECE Faculty Research Project, of which she is the lead researcher. Brenda Huff, ECE Professor, is the faculty participant in the Research Project representing St. Clair College. The research project explored research and practices associated with outdoor pedagogy while developing the community of practice.
“Ten colleges across Canada participated in the project, and St. Clair College is one of three Colleges from Ontario. The involvement in the research project has rooted the new outdoor lab as a focal point for our ECE program by implementing key learnings from the research project. Our ECE students gain core competencies as graduates by bringing research and practice closer together.” Mentioned Brenda Huff, ECE Professor, St. Clair College.
In late 2023, Chatham Kent YMCA Foundation donated outdoor learning materials. This donation was to add to the equipment prepared for outdoor multipurpose use with the ECE students and the community partners. In collaboration with the ECE program, the YMCA of Southwestern Ontario hosted two community events named Loose Parts in the fall and winter. These events were open to the community to attend.
Also, in late 2023, St. Angela Merici School participated as a community partner with our ECE program. This partnership included four kindergarten classrooms with a rotating schedule of visiting the ECE Outdoor Lab. The kindergarten children and their educator teams visited the outdoor lab to explore the natural setting. The student-designed curriculum invited the children to explore and learn. The opportunity deepens the practice of the ECE students to include interaction with children to plan, implement, and reflect on their prepared curriculum.
St. Clair College Alumni Association funded the purchase and installation of raised garden beds built for an Indigenous garden project.