(Photo by Paul Pedro)(Photo by Paul Pedro)

New outdoor ECE space at St. Clair College benefits struggling sector

St. Clair College is doing its part to tackle the shortage of Early Childhood Educators (ECE) and the lack of available childcare spaces by opening an outdoor education lab.

The grand opening was held at the Mary Uniac building on the St. Clair College Chatham Campus on Thursday afternoon.

The lab is being touted as an outdoor teaching area that produces better ECEs and better children through practical learning experiences.

ECE Professor Brenda Huff said outdoor education is very beneficial.

"One research supports benefits for adult learners as well as for children. So, there are benefits for stress, for wellness, and being connected back to nature," said Huff.

Chatham-Kent's Director of Community and Human Services Kelly Emery said the outdoor lab will develop more ECE students to fill much needed childcare spaces and will better develop children.

"We know brain development is key and we can't sing that enough from the roof tops. Early brain development pays back in an investment for years and years to come. We need to remember that. Early years are the cornerstone of our economy," Emery said.

Regional Manager at YMCA of Southwestern Ontario Cynthia Frizelle told the crowd that investing in outdoor learning sets up students for success and allows children to connect to the land and have a better sense of joy and well being.

"Internationally, the research tells us that outdoor play is a growing field with amazing impact on the health and well being of children in Scotland and Australia and across Europe," Frizelle said. "To have quality outdoor pedagogy we need highly qualified educators that lead outdoor play through mentorship and partnerships with children, the materials available, and the beautiful outdoor space."

An elite outdoor pedagogy expert from Okanagan College in Nova Scotia Dr. Beverlie Dietze sent a message calling the outdoor space in Chatham visionary and remarkable, adding it will foster personal growth and develop life skills different from inside learning.

"With this vision St. Clair College is leading the way in a new era of education, one that embraces nature as the ultimate classroom. This is the best way of preparing our future graduates to enter the field as an early childhood professional," Dr. Dietze said.

The ECE outdoor lab received funding from the Municipality of Chatham-Kent, Chatham-Kent YMCA Foundation, and St. Clair College Alumni Association.

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