Arboretum program helps join Toronto kids with nature

Humber Arboretum Daycare students learn about pond wildlife during a North campus Arboretum guided tour. (Laura DaSilva)

Laura DaSilva
News Reporter

Deep into the woods of the Arboretum there is no Wi-Fi, but Humber students may find a connection that could help them through final exams.

Julie Valerio, faculty member of Humber’s Early Childhood Education Program, said she introduces her students to the Arboretum by talking about the issues involved in the disconnect children have with the natural world.

“We’re helping children understand that the outdoor world is a part of their organic life.  It’s not all about technology and the fear of being outside,” she said. “You have to explore and discover nature in a different way, not just indoors or in parks.”

Psychological Science published a University of Michigan study called The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting with Nature, which outlines ways spending time in the wilderness can alleviate stress and help with focus.

“After an interaction with natural environments, one is able to perform better on tasks that depend on directed-attention abilities,” said the 2008 study by Marc G. Berman, John Jonides, and Stephen Kaplan.

Valerio said the benefits they experience after nature walks and classes outside often leaves her students surprised.

“If you look at a tree, sit under one, or walk through the trees, it really does restore your ability to pay attention. It lowers your stress reactions to life,” she said.

As the school year is winding down, pressure and tension are ramping up. Valerio said students should take advantage of the ‘jewel’ that is the Arboretum.

“During exams, stress is at an all-time high for students, and we’re finding that getting in touch with the natural world really is something that we’ve ignored,” she said.

“It really does help. It brings perspective and helps calm brain function, blood pressure and all of the biological reactions,” said Valerio.

Avalon Miller, a first-year Landscape student and crew leader at the Humber Arboretum, said being involved with nature and the outdoors is a great way to reflect and relax.

“For me, gardening is peaceful and allows me time to think and enjoy. I think being connected with nature is like free therapy,” said Miller.

Miller said the Arboretum is home to many native Canadian plants, creating a sustainable ecosystem and inviting a large number of animals. She encourages students to explore between classes.

“Not only is the Arboretum relaxing, it is also an opportunity to learn more about nature itself and what nature is truly capable of,” she said.

Taurean Linton, public relations and events manager at the Centre for Urban Ecology and Humber Arboretum, said summer camps, weddings and bird watching walks are some of the ways people can experience the outdoor space over the next few months.

“People come here to experience the beauty of the outdoors,” he said. “It’s exam time, so many students are studying inside.”

Students should look to nature to nurture their mentalities during finals.

“Even just going out for a walk really helps to de-stress and cope with school and life,” said Valerio.

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