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Social- Emotional Learning (SEL) 
Nature & Equine Assisted

What is Social Emotional Learning?

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children learn and apply a set of  skills, attitudes, behaviors, and values that help them to direct their thoughts, feelings, and actions in ways that promote  learning, health and wellbeing. 


ASEL’s Definition of SEL (2020 Update):

“Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an integral part of education and human development. SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.

SEL advances e

What are SEL skills? 

SEL skills cross cognitive, social and emotional domains and include:

Cognitive domain: Attention control, inhibitory control, working memory and planning skills, cognitive flexibility and critical thinking

Social domain: understanding social cues, social problem solving and prosocial/cooperative behaviour

Emotional domain: emotional knowledge and expression, emotional and behavioural regulation, empathy/perspective taking. 




We offer an  unique approach to SEL that draws upon nature and the wisdom of horses to promote learning and development across the cognitive, social and emotional domains of each child's experience and potential. 

This approach is informed by the
EPI model of equine assisted psychotherapy and equine assisted learning and focuses on each child's strengths and the unique ways in which they experience, interact with and interpret the world.


The 3 R's

  1. Emotional Regulation (developing strategies to respond to your experiences in the world in a manner that is tolerable and flexible)

  2. Resourcing (restoring connection to your inner and outer resources that bring comfort and support during times of stress or dysregulation)

  3. Raising Awareness (becoming aware of different aspects of yourself, others and  the environment that influences how you think, feel, and act.


Learning and Relating by way of Nature & THE HORSE
At Connect by Nature we integrate natural environments, natural materials and horses  into learning and skill building activities with an emphasis on social-emotional skills building.

Consistent with the EPI model, we believe that we learn, heal and grow through relationships, and further, that experiences in nature and with horses offers unique sensory,  somatic, and relational opportunities that supports learning, health and wellbeing.  This can be especially beneficial for neurodiverse children and youth who may find relating to people and functioning in closed, indoor spaces challenging.

The Benefits of Nature

is based Recent studies haminve shown that there are many benefits to spending time outside for people of all ages, but for children and youth exposure to nature can have long lasting positive impacts on their health and quality of life.  Children who spend time in nature gain multiple health benefits including raising vitamin D levels, protecting their bone health, and reducing their risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.  Exposure to nature has also been shown to act as a buffer against childhood stress, improve communication skills, motor coordination, and cognitive functioning including increased concentration, greater attention capacities, and higher academic performance.  

Nature as Therapy
Nature inspires contemplation, introspection and imagination.  When nature is integrated with therapy it allows for a relaxed and playful approach to therapy that engages the mind and body in ways not easily experienced in closed, indoor spaces. 

Nature has been shown to restore children's attention, relieve stress and promote social connection and creativity. It also provides a literal and metaphoric doorway for children to meet their biophilic needs - to feel and be connected with the natural world, and themselves as a part of nature ( Meg Kirby, The Equine Psychotherapy Institute, 2021)

Ways of the horse

Horse as co regulator: The horse's large and settled physiology can act a co-regulator, supporting the child's nervous system to regulate.

Horse as Unique Feedback:  The horse provides a biofeedback mechanism and behavioural response that offers information about how the child impacts others.

Horse as non-judgmental presence:  The horse offers a non judgmental 'other' that supports feelings of safety and stress reduction.

Horse as safe attachment:   The horse provides the child with an experience of attachment needs such as safe movement, touch, holding.

Horse as motivator:  The horse focuses attention and stimulates interest and engagement

 Reference: Meg Kirby, The Equine Psychotherapy Institute, 2021

Contact us for more information!

Phone: 905-630-1909

Nancy Rushford 
PhD, MSc.OT, Reg. (Ont.), M.A
Registered Occupational Therapist/
Tara Darling
M Ed. B Ed.
Learning Consultant/
Certified Forest & Nature Practitioner

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