Mary Elizabeth McCaw: planting the seed of learning

Year: 2019 – Province: British Columbia

Certificate of Achievement Recipient

Mary Elizabeth McCaw

Departure Bay-Eco School, Nanaimo, British Columbia

"Liz McCaw, though small in stature and quiet of voice, is that kind of giant—one who inspires her young learners to be open to dream … . She plants a seed deep in their hearts with the hope that, when in full bloom, they will know they can be everything that they choose to be."  — Colleague

In her unique Outdoor Kindergarten Program, Liz McCaw combines outdoor learning and the Reggio Emilia approach to teaching to create rich learning experiences for her students.

Teaching approach

Liz models being an active learner in the class beside her students, and weaves opportunities for them to develop independence and learn how to cooperate and collaborate. Students participate in project work that allows them to stretch across disciplines.

In the classroom

  • Provides an ever-changing natural environment for her students to actively explore, taking them to the forest and beach four days a week
  • Develops the "languages" of science, technology, engineering, art and math with her students: outside, they observe the natural cycles of plants, animals and seasons, and construct forts, dams and bridges; inside, they look at natural elements with a digital microscope attached to a projector.
  • Utilizes imaginative story play, modelling the use of props, character and loose parts to bring stories alive: inspired by their outdoor learning experiences, children present their writing or oral storytelling in small groups, with partners or as a whole class.
  • Builds rich learning frameworks: for example, shares a picture book with the class, encouraging turn-and-talk and A/B partner sharing to deepen comprehension; the class may then watch a video of the same story and later use the familiar narrative to create their own stories.

Outstanding achievements

  • Wrote and published a book outlining her approach to outdoor education, Outside Our Window: Developing a Primary Nature Program , covering learning activities, developing classroom resources and collaborative community partnerships, and accessing grants.
  • Runs, with a local preschool teacher, a monthly drop-in storytelling and play workshop for families and their three- and four-year-old children, with a space for parents to chat while the children play.
  • Leads professional development for fellow teachers and early childhood educators, including a multi-part learning series on Reggio Emilia-inspired practice and a session on embedding First Nations principles of learning in a primary program.
  • Has redesigned learning environments for a new nature school, several preschools and a number of elementary classrooms to meet children's learning needs and developmental levels.

Get in touch!

Departure Bay-Eco School
3004 Departure Bay Road
Nanaimo BC V9T 1B4

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