Students at Warman High School’s (WHS) Outdoor Education Club were busy polishing up their paddling skills on Wednesday, May 16 in preparation for a canoe camping trip to northern Saskatchewan at the end of the month.
About two dozen students maneuvered canoes around the Prairie Oasis Park storm water reservoir in Warman under the watchful eye of teachers. The after-school practice, in which Grades 10-12 students learn self-rescue and water safety in addition to paddling skills, has been ongoing since the ice disappeared off the pond a few weeks ago.
Getting in and out of the small lake is a lot easier this year, thanks to extensive shore landscaping and the addition of a dock on the eastern edge of the pond, according to WHS teacher Peter Schmidt, one of the organizers of the club.
“It’s an amazing facility for teaching kids the basics of canoeing,” said Schmidt in an interview at the water’s edge on May 16. “We have a great relationship with the city, and with all the improvements to the park in general, and the pond in particular, the kids really look forward to these practice sessions.
“On nice, sunny, warm days, anyway. On cold rainy days, maybe not so much.”
This is the sixth year for the Outdoor Education program at WHS, which includes both an extra-curricular club and a curriculum-accredited class. The program offers a range of year-round outdoor activities including canoeing, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, snowshoeing, hiking and camping. This is the fifth year for the canoeing component of the program.
“We do a couple of trips in the spring, and another one in the fall,” said Schmidt. “The goal is to basically get kids outside so they can connect with nature, gain a sense of confidence, learn how to persevere through some difficult conditions and find out things about themselves as well as the world around them.”
Schmidt said safety is a priority for all club and class outings, but at the same time the students must be prepared for the unexpected.
“One of the nice things about being able to practice canoeing on a small, protected body of water like this is that the kids learn to do self-rescue in a safe environment,” said Schmidt. “We have had a few accidental capsizes. These things happen. But we also train them in canoe-over-canoe rescues beforehand, and sometimes we end up doing the real thing out here.”
Schmidt said helping students overcome their fear of the outdoors is important.
“If they learn to do this now while they’re young, and they have good memories, then they’re more likely to keep on being active throughout their lives,” he said.
Another benefit of the program is that it creates a better connection between students and teachers that carries over into the regular classroom.
“We have a lot of teachers involved in the club that are finding they can connect better with the kids on things like math, science, all kinds of classroom subjects,” said Schmidt. “The kids seem to learn better, too. They’re a lot more engaged in so many ways.”