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Nature Programs, Partnerships, and Placements

Current nature-based initiatives link to Humber College’s 2018-2023 Strategic Plan, which positions “Healthy and Inclusive Community” as one if the strategic pillars, and identifies “Health and Well-Being” as one of Humber’s core values.

little boy and girl walking

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Forest & Nature Program

The Forest Nature Program was started in 2016 as a partnership between Humber’s Department of Early Childhood Education and the Humber Child Development Centre.

The goals of the Forest Nature Program (FNP) are to:

  • Provide children with regular and repeated access to the same natural setting, for longer periods at a time.
  • Provide opportunities for children, students, and staff to be more physically active and increase strategies for mental health and wellness.
  • Increase knowledge about local forests, ponds, rivers, creatures and animals, biodiversity, and traditional teachings (including the four directions teaching, the elements of life, and natural life cycles.

natural playground

Natural Playground

Located on the Humber College North Campus, the Natural Playground was built out of a unique collaboration between the Humber Childhood Development Centre, the development fund, the department of Early Childhood Education, and the Humber Arboretum’s horticultural program. The space serves infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, and includes sand play, musical instruments, climbing structures, and gardening areas. In addition to the diverse play opportunities, this site also has unique topographic features and winter interest.


kids drawing outside

Nature Education Group

The Nature Education Group (NEG) is a cross-disciplinary working group co-chaired by the Early Childhood Education department and the Humber Arboretum to promote engagement in nature for students, faculty, children, families, and the wider community of practice implementing nature education. The NEG is aligned with the priorities of both the Faculty of Health Sciences & Wellness and the Humber Arboretum: exemplary programs and practice, student success, training and professional development and research.

Partnership and Placement in Odense, Denmark

Program Goals

Since 2017, Humber’s Early Childhood Education Department has partnered with University College Lillebaelt (UCL) to provide experiential learning for students from both institutions. In addition to  a focus on social inclusion and pedagogy, UCL has a long tradition of incorporating nature into  pedagogical practices. Many early learning settings in and around Odense have nature embedded into the curriculum.

The goals of the partnership are to:

  • Identify synergies with the intent to grow mobility programs
  • Develop placement opportunities for UCL students that showcase Canadian early care, development, responsive and inclusive programming
  • Provide options for Humber students to enroll in the Global Citizenship Certificate Program
  • Provide Humber students with International forest nature program placements
  • Create opportunities to develop alternative learning models and delivery methods
  • Develop applied research collaborations, possibly to:
    • Explore nature and eco pedagogy, forest and nature school movements, and environmental stewardship
    • Evaluate the impact of different play settings (traditional playgrounds, natural playgrounds and natural forest and nature based settings) on young children’s physical activity, play interactions and safety


Partnership with University College Lillebaelt

5-Week Placement

Since 2017, students in Humber’s Early Childhood Education Diploma Program have the opportunity to complete a 5-week field placement in Odense, Denmark, with one of our partner institutions, University College Lillebaelt. The experience (mid-May to mid-June) includes field placement, class visits, and a rustic camping trip, and provides students with the mandatory 25 days of field practicum for their winter or summer semester. Students also complete the Global Citizenship Certificate by the end of their placement.

The field placements are with local Forest Schools, a part of Denmark’s history since the 1950s.

Ranjit Saini

See one of our graduates, Ranjit Saini in the local Odense news during her 4th semester placement >

Student reflections on placement:

"Their uses of the forest and natural playground will be extremely transferable to the schools I will be working with in my future." – Debbie

"I would love the opportunity to do another placement abroad and would jump at the opportunity to return back to Denmark to complete a placement. This experience has also sparked an interest in learning more about outdoor education around the world and looking into furthering my studies in this area abroad." – Rebecca

"I learned so much about what can be explored within the outdoor environment, such as methods of enhancing empathy and risk-taking play among children." – Pearl

students in Denmark by the water

little boy cutting twigs

children playing on climbing rope

Humber Arboretum Workshops for Students

The Humber Arboretum offers numerous free workshops and educational experiences throughout the year related to ecology, gardening, and sustainability. Participating in as few as two CCR Certified events can earn students an activity listing on their Co-Curricular Record:

Level One Learner

Attend at least two (2) Humber Arboretum workshops or public events which have been designated as CCR eligible.

But why stop at Level One?

Specialized Learner: Gardening

Attend at least four (4) Humber Arboretum events that have been designated as eligible for the CCR Gardening Specialty. Options could include gardening workshops facilitated by the Etobicoke Master Gardeners, one-off lunch and learns on gardening for the environment, or planting events.

Specialized Learner: Nature and Ecology

Attend at least four (4) Humber Arboretum events that have been designated as eligible for the CCR Nature and Ecology Specialty. Options could include birding and citizen science workshops held in association with Bird Studies Canada, conservation events run by the TRCA, hands-on workshops removing invasive species, or other activities.

How It Works

  • Watch the Event Calendar on the Humber Arboretum website. Check individual event listings to see if they are eligible to count toward a Humber Arboretum Learner CCR (the event page will have the CCR certified logo).
  • You are responsible for registering for the events in advance (if applicable). 
  • When you arrive, check in on the regular registration with other attendees (if applicable).
  • Learn and enjoy!
  • At the end of the event you must sign out with Arboretum staff on the CCR Learner’s sheet and indicate to which category(ies) you are applying the workshop. Eligible events may be counted toward both a Level One designation and ONE Specialty designation, but not both specialties.
  • After you have participated in the required number of learning activities, you can apply to have your experience validated through the CCR portal.

Nature Prompts for the Early Learning & Care Educator


Humber College in partnership with The Back to Nature Network, is excited to offer “Ready...Set...Wonder!” a new guide to assist early childhood education professionals in providing opportunities for children to connect with nature on a regular basis. In this practical guide you will find a large number of nature prompts for the early learning and care educator that are simple, and easy to introduce with readily available materials. To get the most out of the guide and the principles the prompts are based upon, we recommend using it in its entirety.

Thank you to the early learning and care community across Ontario for providing input, and the following organizations for offering support during creation of the guide: Royal Botanical Gardens, Evergreen, Forest School Canada, YMCA of Greater Toronto, and Nature of Kids.

Disclaimer: Use of the Ready...Set...Wonder guide is at the user's discretion. Humber College will not be liable or responsible for any damages, errors, omissions, injuries, misuse, or dissatisfaction caused by downloading and/or using the guide. It is the user's responsibility to ensure that the activities in the guide are carried out safely, and adhere to the standards and/or curriculum laid out by the user's institution and governing body.

ready set wonder book cover 

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French Version - web

French Version - print

Current Applied Research

Louise Zimanyi

(Re) Storying Place: The Willows Forest Nature Program

This research explores how might places within the Humber Arboretum may be collectively known and experienced differently through place-specific and Indigenous stories. By thinking with place, the research explores how collective engagement and inquiry may contribute to re-storying young children’s place encounters and reshaping place-connected pedagogies within The Willows forest nature program.

Christine Zupo

Engaging in positive activities (interventions) have been reliably shown to increase positive emotions and subjective sense of wellbeing. Positive psychology interventions are theoretically-grounded and empirically-validated instructions, activities, and recommendations that are designed to enhance wellbeing and subjective sense of happiness. Current literature explores the healthy benefits of implementing positive interventions and increasing the experience of positive emotions. Studies have found happy people report frequent experience of positive emotions, infrequent experience of negative' emotions, enjoy higher levels of success, health, and social connection. Exposure to nature demonstrates elevating outcomes similar to the implementation of positive interventions. Research has demonstrated exposure to nature offers a number of benefits such as; better health, reduced stress, faster recovery from illness, increased sense of self efficacy, etc. This research hopes to build on the findings within positive psychology and environmental psychology as a way to use nature as a means to supercharge positive interventions creating a richer experience of life for individuals as they seek and engage in ways to increase their subjective sense of happiness and wellbeing.

Completed Applied Research

Who is John the Snail and When Can We Meet Him?: Parent Perspectives on Children's Engagement in a Forest Nature Program

Louise Zimanyi and Olga Rossovska

Parent perspectives on how time spent in nature and natural settings influences their child’s play, learning and holistic development and their connection to the natural world. This research explores:

  • What motivation and influences encourage parents to expose their children to nature through the forest nature program at the Humber Child Development Centre?
  • What benefits do parents recognize when they expose their children to nature?

  • How do parents perceive the importance of nature for their child’s development?

  • What may be barriers that prevent parents from exposing their children to nature?

Study of Learning in a Natural Environment using an IPE model

Julie Valerio and Carol Reid, Stacey McPhail, Dean Dickinson, Tina Greco, Melanie Sifton, Amanda Dyer

Current research in nature education education emphasizes a multidisciplinary approach to student learning. This project provided opportunities for Humber students from the Early Childhood Education, Horticulture and Landscape Design, and Occupational Therapist Assistant and Physiotherapist Assistant programs with the opportunity to engage in a hands-on, experiential nature education workshop series at the Centre for Urban Ecology and Humber Arboretum. The course was evaluated using qualitative and quantitative measures to assess students’ perceptions of learning in the natural environment and their knowledge and attitudes towards interprofessional learning.