Thinking outside 

Place-based education is a pedagogical approach that has been championed by educator and writer David Sobel. It connect students’ experiences to a place of importance with their learning, with the educator providing regular and repeated opportunities to explore a specific place in their community. As students explore both its natural and built features through the lens of observation and wonder, they will want to learn more about their special place. The educator will then weave a variety of subject areas to investigate in that place and encourage students to share their stories through oral storytelling, journaling or art. Students’ stories are linked to stories and existing knowledge of the place (e.g., Anishinaabe stories in the Ottawa area), helping them make even deeper connections to a place that is meaningful to them. Finally, these stories form part of the culture of the classroom, which supports the development of the students’ sense of empathy not only for the livings things that call this place home, but also for the place itself.

Laurie-Lane Zucker, who coined the phrase ‘place-based education’ with Dr. John Elder through the Orion Society in the early 1990s, provided this observation in the introduction to David Sobel’s 2004 book: Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities.

  • "Place-based education might be characterized as the pedagogy of community, the reintegration of the individual into her homeground and the restoration of the essential links between a person and her place. Place-based education challenges the meaning of education by asking seemingly simple questions: Where am I? What is the nature of this place? What sustains this community? It often employs a process of re-storying, whereby students are asked to respond creatively to stories of their homeground so that, in time, they are able to position themselves, imaginatively and actually, within the continuum of nature and culture in that place. The become part of the community, rather than a passive observer of it.”



When we use our school grounds as places to support this pedagogical approach, we consider David Sobel’s principles for imagining play on school grounds, which are universal to all children, regardless of socioeconomic, cultural or geographic background:

  1. Adventure
  2. Fantasy and imagination
  3. Animal allies
  4. Maps and paths
  5. Special places
  6. Small worlds
  7. Hunting and gathering


This place-based education approach supports Ontario’s curriculum in the elementary grades, and also directly supports Ontario’s Full-Day Kindergarten Curriculum. As students explore their environment through play, they lay the foundation for citizenship and environmental stewardship (Belonging and Contributing - one of the Four Frames of the Kindergarten Program). Educators often observe students engage in play which could fall under the category “animal allies” in which they become an animal and take on some of the animal’s traits. The play is not necessarily scientifically accurate, but by taking on the role of an animal and acting out their play, children will learn about the animal, its needs, and characteristics and develop an awareness of the natural world which surrounds them.

Forest School (click on link)