Business booms for Outdoor Learning School

By Chadd Cawson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Despite one’s age nothing quite nurtures the mind like nature. Surrounded by the inspiration of magnificent mountains, countless streams and lakes, and thick lush forest; educators from across the Columbia Valley Basin recognized their shared interest and cultural and geographic connections in environmental education (EE). Through this shared common ground and a strong desire to promote EE on a larger and regional scale the seeds for the Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network were planted and they only grew from there.

After a decade of thinking bigger and outside of the boxes we normally learn in, CBEEN went from the little organization that could to an influential network of educators who share the same passion for growth across the Columbia River Valley, Basin, and beyond. With a lack of outdoor equipment and resources readily at one’s fingertips The Outdoor Learning Store, which is a charitable non-profit social enterprise, bloomed from this growth. These educators with a love for the environment connected with others across Turtle Island (North America) who had similar visions and desired goals in mind. 

“We wrote the social enterprise plan in 2019 and officially launched in June 2020,” says Duncan Whittick CBEEN Executive Director. “Before this, there wasn’t anywhere in Canada that offered a one-stop-shop for schools and educators to access excellent equipment, resources and tools for outdoor learning. Everything we offer comes recommended by educators, and in addition we offer free resources such as workshops, events, podcasts, and webinars to support educators in deepening their understanding and practice around these resources.”

The Outdoor Learning Store with partners now across North America is based out of Invermere and offers network-approved outdoor learning resources for all learners and educators while still being a support to outdoor learning non-profit organizations.  Through CBEEN’s free virtual professional development workshops being such a big hit along with the tools and resources through the store the CBEEN team quickly saw the hunger for outdoor learning resources across Canada and even internationally that have the support of ethical practices and policies.

“We are averaging about 100 packages shipped out each week right now, and every week is very different,” says Whittick. “We have supported over 2500 Canadian schools, and 10,000 Canadian teachers in accessing resources and equipment so far. We will officially open in the US at the end of July, but we aren’t preventing orders from coming through, and so about 5% of orders are from the US at this point. And we’ve received orders from other places around the world such as the UK, France, Sweden, and South Korea. 

More popular items have been Every Child Matters lanyards, Enhanced Sit Pads, and Aquatic Dip Nets. CBEEN just isn’t getting their resources and tools out there, but also the word and global attention. “The Outdoor store is a success story. Going from supporting educators in our local area in BC to worldwide in 3 years is incredible, says Jenna Jasek Indigenous Advisor for The Outdoor Learning Store. “There is a need for Indigenous ways of knowing, and being, and place-based learning. The Outdoor Store has fulfilled that need and continues to produce excellent authentic Indigenous resources, outdoor learning and place-based learning.” Currently over 5000 educators have registered for CBEEN’s Spring Virtual Outdoor Learning Workshop Series, and since Jan 1 over 10,000 resources have been ordered from their store.

“This attention means that CBEEN can develop this social enterprise as a way of bringing resources and capacity, including financial capacity, back into the region we serve, the Canadian Columbia Basin,” says Whittick. “It’s my desire for social enterprises to be seen as something that could/should be adopted more in our community. It is a great way for nonprofits to build financial capacity to support their good work while also contributing to local community economic development in a socially responsible way. 

For more information visit TheOutdoorLearningStore.