While working toward his Bachelor of Arts in Outdoor Education with a concentration in Environmental Education at NVU-Johnson, Cameron Sprague worked in the Child Development Center on campus. Starting as a student helper through the work study program, by his senior year he was an assistant teacher directly supporting the day-to-day running of one of the classrooms.
“I was in charge of the classroom when the teacher was on vacation and was in the center whenever I wasn’t in class,” he said. “That year, especially, really started me thinking that Early Years could be the right place for me.”
Today, Cameron is the team leader at the Stramash Fort William Outdoor Nursery Campus in Ft. William, Scotland, “on the banks of the river Lochy by Inverlochy castle, and nestling in the footprint of the mighty Ben Nevis.” It’s just the spot for an inspired outdoor education program, which Cameron played a key role in getting started.
Growing up in Centerville, MA, Cameron worked at a 4H Camp in Mashpee in the summers. He learned about the NVU Johnson program through a chance encounter in his high school cafeteria. “I didn’t know Outdoor Ed was a degree until I heard another student talking about it,” he said. His experience at NVU Johnson launched his path.
“Classes like ornithology, earth science, and environmental interpretation provided a base of knowledge about the world around me. But I was also surrounded by professors and advisors who cared about me on a personal level. Knowing that they wanted me to succeed and to get the most of my studies supported me in ways that I’m sure they will never fully appreciate,” Cameron said. “The content of the classes helped develop my own core which still anchors me today. But the way they were taught has had just as lasting an impact.”
Building A Program, From the Ground Up
After graduating, Cameron joined his partner in her native Scotland. At first, Cameron worked as behavioral support staff with high school students. After landing in Fort William in 2013 with a young child of nursery age, Cameron responded to a flier seeking help with building an outdoor nursery program on a grassy, four-acre field and was hired as team leader in 2014. Today, the nursery serves 65 children between 2-5 years of age each week.
Since 2018, Cameron has also been training others to develop similar programs as the country promotes Outdoor Education within the Early Years through policy guidance and legislation. “This has created the need for more pre-school education locations and a larger Early Years workforce,” he said. “My job as head of training is to help the teams at these locations to become ‘outdoor ready’ by giving them the skills and confidence to lead a play-based education outside of their comfort zones.”
At the outdoor nursery Cameron leads, the children are the decision-makers, helping to design and build all of the pieces that make up the campus. Rather than toys that have a defined purpose in play, “we want kids to do things with loose parts so they have the freedom of expression and thought,” he said. “I love what I do and I think it’s really important. We’re instilling key habits and ideas during these early years.”
Cameron is grateful for his time at NVU Johnson and applies what he learned to his work today. “My degree in Outdoor Education built the skills you would expect: confidence working with groups outside, the ability to dynamically assess risk, knowledge of the natural world, and the skills to facilitate groups coming together. But I didn’t anticipate how those skills would transfer as my career progressed to management. I try to approach my work with my team in the same way my professors taught us.”
Cameron was interviewed about his Early Years work on 30seconds.com and offers a link to a new program underway at the school which “kind of happened on a whim,” he said, “but is turning into something really quickly.”