Outdoor Learning

"To attend RLC felt second-nature to me. It was as though I were going to school in my own backyard, immersed in the natural world ... RLC was a place of calm, focus, and inspiration."
—Samantha Brett '04

When Rosseau Lake College was founded in 1967, it was modelled after two internationally esteemed independent schools: Geelong Grammar School Timbertop Campus in Australia and Gordonstoun in Scotland. Both were early examples of experiential, place-based education. Being located outside of urban areas, steeped in outdoor natural environments, they challenged conventional learning methods by allowing students an opportunity to experience small community life, learning from life as well as books, and applying their learning to real-world problems through local service and civic involvement. 

Throughout its life, outdoor learning has been an integral part of RLC’s culture and curriculum, evolving to become indistinguishable from the academic curriculum. “Outdoor education isn’t separate from education or environmental education,” says Outdoor education lead Graeme Smith. “It’s all interwoven.” As in those earlier schools, the outdoors is used as a means of enhancing the delivery and understanding of the curriculum across all subject areas.. “You can think of it as having three facets,” says Smith, “education of the outdoors, education for the outdoors, and education in the outdoors.” 

Education of the outdoors is often what people think of first. It’s learning how to canoe, and applying that skill to navigating from one place to another. It’s the lessons that come from physical exertion, and the satisfaction of reaching a goal. 

Education for the outdoors is learning about the environment, about what is happening to the ecosystems, or understanding the geography of the region by travelling across it, and being immersed in it. 

Education in the outdoors is just that: a math teacher taking her class outside on a sunny day to learn math, or an English teacher taking his class outside to discuss a book. There are outdoor classrooms and learning spaces scattered across the campus, including a teepee and a natural amphitheatre by the water’s edge, which instructors make consistent use of. A signature spot is the Knot, a dais set on a hill overlooking the water’s edge. Windows line the indoor spaces, so even there, nature is never all that far away. And then there’s the lake itself. During classes, as well as recreational time, students are able to get out on the water, in the water, or just by the water. In addition to the daily interaction with the environment on campus, all students take part in a canoe trip of five days or more. 

Across those facets, Smith feels that the experience is uniquely able to deliver the kinds of skills that employers are increasingly looking for: problem solving, decision making, critical thinking, and character traits, such as resiliency and empathy. (“It’s pretty easy to put yourself in someone else’s shoes when you’re struggling through a portage together,” says Smith. “So, there is that power of going through a challenging experience with someone else.”) 

From academic inquiry, to social interaction, to wellness, to recreation, at RLC outdoor learning is ingrained in all aspects of student life. As has been shown over more than half a century and generations of students, the program has provided the foundation for academic success while building foundations for living healthy, active, productive lives.