Building Partnerships and Innovative Programs

Building Partnerships and Innovative Programs to Expand EarlyON Child and Family Programs

Adapting service delivery for include four seasons outdoor programming for an Indigenous land-based and seasonal pedagogy approach

By Kathy Lucky

August 2023

Before the pandemic, York Region organized a "Think Tank session" with EarlyON agencies to evaluate current outdoor programming. After analyzing the materials, locations, teaching methods, hours and days programs were offered, the following areas for improvement were identified:

  • Inconsistent accessibility of outdoor programs throughout the year 
  • Focus on providing indoor-style play experiences in outdoor settings
  • Reliance on community parks or center playgrounds for program locations

We also recognized that our EarlyON educators, who were trained in Early Childhood Education (ECE), often did not have outdoor education or Indigenous cultural training to make the necessary changes to our curriculum development for outdoor program delivery. To address these concerns, we sought the advice of outdoor education and Indigenous worldview experts to help us develop a new four-season outdoor program.  

Then, we partnered with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority to support our training and curriculum development, leading to the creation of the Walking Together Through the Four Seasons collaborative initiative.

Walking Together Through the Four Seasons
Walking Together Through the Four Seasons offers outdoor programming that follows an Indigenous land-based learning approach and Ojibwe pedagogy throughout all four seasons. 

Between April 2022 and March 2023, 90 EarlyON Educators from our partnering organizations and three York Region Community Program Coordinators were involved in 33 training sessions. These training sessions included in-person land-based learning hubs for hands-on experience and virtual community of practice gatherings. Each training session was dedicated to a specific topic to help the participants reflect on current best practices and develop innovative approaches for planning, developing and implementing four-season outdoor programs that incorporate Indigenous land-based learning and Ojibwe Pedagogy.

Using Land as Teacher Methodology 
Inspired by the Seasonal Pedagogy ‘Progression’ developed by Dr. Hopi Lowell Martin, the EarlyON Educators used Land as Teacher learning stories to connect with nature and integrate an Indigenous worldview into program development. As one of many Ojibwe worldviews, this land-based learning approach was used as a framework to develop a pedagogical documentation process and four-season curriculum for children, educators, parents and caregivers. Each Land as Teacher learning story includes a photo in each cycle of the seasonal pedagogy with reflective questions and prompts that helped guide the work.

A Seasonal Pedagogy: Progression
By: Hopi Lowell Martin

Birth - All life and learning on Mother Earth begins with conception.
What experience sparked wonder in the child/ren or in you?

Movement – All life and learning needs movement to grow.
What movements brought the child/ren or you into deeper engagement with that wonder?

Relationship - All life and learning must come into relationship with other beings to grow past self.
What relationships developed through the Land, between children, adults, or multiple generations?

Passing - All life and learning must give back to the whole community to continue.
What is the story of learning? How does it give back to the community?

Our Program Achievements
The Walking Together Through the Four Seasons program wrapped up in April 2023. As we complete the final evaluation summary, I'm thrilled to share that the York Region EarlyON team has already made significant progress toward increasing access to four-season outdoor programs in all nine towns and cities in York Region. All EarlyON centres in York Region are now required to provide a designated outdoor program location throughout the year. Currently, we have 14 outdoor locations, offering weekly programs that allow parents and children to explore natural environments and learn from the land itself. 

As a result of this initiative, our outdoor programs are now developed, planned and implemented using the Land as Teacher approach.  Parents and children are invited to explore, investigate and observe the natural environments in a variety of settings, including nature trails, parks, ravines, forests and green spaces. 

The Walking Together Through the Four Seasons initiative has led to increased access to outdoor programs for families across York Region, through all four seasons. Most importantly, we’re proud to celebrate our diverse history by offering Indigenous land-based learning as part of our outdoor programs using a seasonal pedagogy to guide our approach.

Municipalities seeking additional details on the Walking Together Through the Four Seasons initiative, can get in touch with Kathy Lucky at or 1-877-464-9675 x 72014. 

About the Author

Kathy Lucky is the Manager, EarlyON Programs, Integrated Children’s Services Division, Regional Municipality of York. Kathy leads a team of professionals to develop and administer high-quality and inclusive community-based programs for children and their families in York Region, through EarlyON Child and Family Programs and Children’s Community Programs. 
Blog categories: Child Care, EarlyON, Indigenous, York Region