"It was because of the staff that we were able to have such a fun week," wrote one student in a thank-you letter to Katie Tanz, senior teacher, and Brent Evans, director, for the Norval Outdoor School.
Year 6 classes recently enjoyed three days of Norval programming on campus before taking a day trip to the Norval property to immerse themselves in the forested surroundings. Pandemic safety necessitated the hybrid learning experience; students have not stayed overnight at Norval since the start of pandemic restrictions in 2020.
"We are basing the bulk of our activities and lessons at Lonsdale, trying to keep the same themes but tailoring them to suit the location," says Tanz. "The boys go to Norval on the fourth day to do things that are really special that they can’t do on the main campus."
The theme for Year 6 programming is the first contact between Indigenous peoples and Europeans, using the fur trade as a vehicle for understanding the cultures and the changes that occurred. Being in Toronto for a portion of the week allowed Tanz and Evans to bring in Indigenous guest speakers from the Redwing Institute, an educational organization that believes in cross-cultural respect and understanding.
"All of our activities lead up to a major simulation called Trappers and Traders," says Tanz. "Depending on how teams trade with each other, they either thrive, survive or perish."
As one of the students wrote in his thank-you letter, "Even though my team did not survive, it was still my favourite part."
On the fourth day, it was time to take a trip to the Norval campus. Students navigated a low ropes challenge course and worked in teams to collect flint and steel. These items were central to the fire-building challenge, a team event that required using only found natural materials to start a fire.
"The groups were so into the fire-building exercise that we had to pull them away to return to Toronto," says Tanz. "One group actually succeeded in making a fire. This is a very impressive feat in winter conditions!"
At week’s end, students have an understanding of Indigenous culture and history. And, says Tanz, "the social aspect is very important, too, especially during the pandemic. Doing these complex, dynamic challenges is really special and they just crave being outside and moving around."
"Travelling to Norval also feels special; the boys really feel like they’re in the wild. If we don’t get there, the experience is missing a little magic."