My family and I went camping this summer as we have for several years now. Seeing their joy from being in nature is a big reason we go. The kids explore trees they don’t normally see, rediscover insects in unusual places, and ride their bikes along dirty, winding paths that aren’t available to us at home. For many people, feelings of peace, connection, and fulfillment come from being in natural environments. Even in our own cities, local parks offer trails, ravines, and other natural elements provide us those feelings that can’t be experienced inside the walls of our homes and our classrooms.
The current pandemic has forced school teams to rethink how educational opportunities can be offered to students; specifically outside the classroom. Many educators are exploring aspects of outdoor education and outdoor place-based learning.
There’s very little argument amongst parents or educators that getting people outside for fresh air and movement is good for physical and mental health; particularly for our friends who only have these opportunities through school. As educators, there is so much focus on in-school learning opportunities for academics, it’s easy to forget there’s a whole world (literally) of opportunity beyond those walls. Outdoor-based lessons and activities vary from primary to high-school, subject matter, and levels of student accessibility. The versatility of outdoor education means that it can be differentiated to meet each and any student at their entry point to learning.
Each class will have its own unique context (Ex. class composition, access to support staff, neighbourhood environment, barriers to learning, etc). I encourage all educators to take this on as you can. Start small. Pick one subject. One lesson. As the expert on your class’ context, you can make informed decisions about when to start and how to start.
Embracing this, and other learning opportunities, is never easy. There will be a learning curve; some steeper than others. The benefits for our students can be worth it in the end; particularly for our students who may struggle with traditional, in-class instructional models.
I am getting more familiar with outdoor education and, like makerspaces and other ideas I’ve shared here, I’m hoping to introduce more parents and educators to them in hopes of sparking change in mindsets and practices.
My one and only student teacher (shout out to Keirsten) created a FANTASTIC two visit trip to Renfrew Ravine. Here’s a small glimpse of some of the activities:
- Observe mosaics and A/B partner share
- Sensation wake-up – Focus and being aware of senses
- Eco-Art with leaves and rocks
- Student work was captured electronically for follow-up activities
- Meditation Walk – Students will focus on listening to what is around them and make visual representations of what they hear (in their outdoor education book)
- Sound Mapping
Whether you’re starting small or going all-in, outdoor education is another great way to offer differentiated learning opportunities across many subjects that will engage students. Keep scrolling for some links to ideas and resources to get you started.
Good luck and be safe.
PBS – 5 Ways to Get Your Class to Explore the Outdoors (April 15, 2019)
BC SD27 (Cariboo – Chilcotin) – Outdoor Education Resources
Plant a Seed and See What Grows – Outdoor Educational Learning Resources
Forest School Canada – Forest and Nature School in Canada: A Head, Heart, Hands Approach to Outdoor Learning (June 2014)
Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network – Education Resources
Primary – Forest School Math Activities
The Outdoor Playbook
EdCan Network: Dr. Gillian Judson – A Walking Curriculum (June 2, 2020)
MindShift (KQED) – Ben James: A Growing Demand for Wilderness Education May Widen Learning Inequality (September 16, 2020)
Edutopia – Laura Lee: With Safety in Mind, Schools Take Classes Outdoors (September 18, 2020)
Nature Natalie – How to Start an Outdoor Classroom at Any School (Webinar)
Mind/Shift – Kara Newhouse – 5 Tips for Embracing Outdoor Learning in Any Setting (October 7, 2020)
Mind/Shift – Kara Newhouse – How Outdoor Learning Can Bring Curiosity and Connection to Education in Tough Times (October 6, 2020)