Earth Day has become an established part of the school calendar. Every school district and most schools focuses on taking care of the environment in one capacity or another. In some cases, the focus remains on garbage pickup and recycling. In some cases, it extends to gardening efforts, going outside for Physical Education and composting. I believe that our real task as educators is to nurture an appreciation of the outdoors to prevent the disconnect with nature that many of our students are experiencing, particularly in urban contexts.
Most children naturally experience the physical benefit from outdoor activity. Some children readily participate in community building experiences with peers. All children benefit from scaffolded experiences to develop their curiosity, creativity, problem solving and mindfulness during outdoor learning experiences. For educators with diverse background experiences outdoors, teachable moments and connections to curriculum unfold seamlessly. At our school, the Grade 6 YMCA Camp Elphinstone experience, has been an important way of broadening student perspective of outdoor learning opportunities available to them. The expansion of recycling and organics in all VSB schools, the BC Fresh Fruit and Veggies program, the B.C. Milk Program for K-Gr2 students, bringing the cows to the school and exploration of food sources have all helped students to make connections between nature and their lives.
One challenges is that educators in urban contexts do not always have the background experiences to use the outdoor classroom as a basis for developing cross curricular competencies on a daily basis. As school communities, we need to tease out the resources that are readily available to us. Dr. Hartley Banack ,of Wild About Vancouver, has been instrumental in helping us to engage our students in meaningful learning experiences. Spearheading the Wild About Vancouver Festival has been a labour of love to broaden the accessibility of outdoor learning possibilities to urban dwellers in Vancouver. With the stellar effort of his team, Wild About Vancouver was able to coordinate 65 events, hosted by 48 organizations. Students at Tecumseh Main and Tecumseh Annex experienced nature through games, shelter building and developing their observation skills during the festival. Hopefully this is an event that only continues to grow and increase our personal health, community building, mindfulness and experiential learning throughout the year.
Dr. Banack is a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy in the Faculty of Education at UBC. He works tirelessly with students at U.B.C. to develop the skill set to engage students in experiential learning outdoors. Alison Nasato and Alli Tufaro are two students in the Social and Emotional Learning cohort at UBC with Professor Claire Rushton. Their coursework with Dr. Banack and Claire Rushton has been inspirational. They have been engaged in inquiry projects exploring curricular integrations of outdoor learning within a SEL framework during their practicum experiences in Surrey, B.C. This type of learning has the potential to impact how we engage students as the redesigned curriculum unfolds in British Columbia.
The Outdoor Einsteins has been an offering at Tecumseh Elementary for all three of terms of after school programming by the David Thompson Community School Team. CST School coordinator, Tara Perkins, has worked hard with student program facilitators from David Thompson Secondary School and volunteers to implement the program. A grant from ReadingBC (BC Council of International Literacy Association) allowed her to develop the literacy aspects of the program. A eureka moment for many of our students and parents has been that you can even have fun outside, even when it’s raining. Appropriate clothing, hot chocolate, student made shelters, giant umbrellas, Write in the Rain books and inspired activities have kept kids excited about participating and lining up to register each term.
Another source of inspiration I recently happened upon on Twitter in the 30X30 challenge sponsored by the David Suzuki Foundation. The goal is 30 minutes outside for 30 days in May. What a fun way to engage our school communities! Follow us @Tecumseh39 to see what we’re up to in our school community. Let us know if you have other ideas on ways to learn in the outdoor classroom.
Embracing the outdoors as an avenue for learning in not always easy sell when you live in a temperate rainforest. The sun, the sand and the sea are celebrated in Vancouver and our claim to being “the very best” place to live is assumed. Last week I was heading outside with a group of students for DPA- the 30 minutes minimum of daily physical activity at schools in British Columbia. An indignant 8 year Amy, popped her hand in the air and responded with “Ms. Froese, don’t you know it’s cold out there?”
The challenge in some schools is ensuring that students are dressed appropriately for the weather. Perhaps the bigger challenge is the notion that we need to somehow escape the weather. How do we help our students to embrace the notion of the outdoor classroom at all times of the year?
Dr. Hart Banack, Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy at UBC, has been heading up Wild About Vancouver in an effort to encourage teachers and students to take advantage of the opportunities to participate in outdoor learning. This year Wild About Vancouver is scheduled for April 16-22, 2016 and will provide dozens of free, outdoor-focused activities. Last week educators from seven schools came together in Vancouver. In exchange for agreeing to host a Wild About Vancouver event (big or small), Hart Banack worked with his students at the University of British Columbia to develop plans tailored to each school to support outdoor learning in the school community. The area was surveyed for parks and other opportunities and activities to incorporate outdoor learning into curriculum using a thematic approach to integrating outdoor education into the “big ideas” of the new curriculum and provincial learning outcomes. Administrators and teachers from public and private elementary sites were excited to see the plans and share about the things happening at their schools. We heard about “outdoor Kindergarten” and whole day expeditions to Jericho Beach Park, rain or shine, where students adopted a square meter to observe changes or made footprints using overhead film to consider the impact of a “step”.
I walked away anxious to share some of the ideas with my staff and Community School Team members. Tara Perkins, CST Programmer, and John Mullan, CST Coordinator, from the David Thompson Community School Team have been working with me on ways to include outdoor learning into after school programs at our school. The student volunteers from David Thompson Secondary worked with Tara to include the “Outdoor Einsteins” in our programming this fall. I came back excited to discuss ways we could continue the program throughout the winter programming. The current program is culminating this Friday with students going outside to actually try out the fire starter kits they have made. This is a learning opportunity often reserved for students participating in the Scouting and Girl Guiding organizations. And yes, that brings up another aspect of outdoor learning: What are the risks worth taking?
Throughout my career, I have coached sports, sponsored the ski/snowboard club, taken kids to camp with swimming and canoeing, on biking fieldtrips to Steveston and to the beach. The reality is that these activities do not provide the same protected environment as the classroom. However many students do not have these experiences unless they do them at school. These activities are frequently game changers for our students. You can see it in kids eyes when there world has just expanded to include a whole new range of options for learning and living. It brings me right back to that Christmas in Grade 3 when I got the lime green bike with the daisy banana seat and the monkey bar handles. The world expanded. I was empowered. To be a child of the 70’s with a new freedom to explore possibilities 🙂
For Amy, the game changer was going outside and realizing that on that cold, crisp day, the sun was in the eastern part of the sky and the moon was in the western part of the sky and that it wasn’t such a bad idea to go out after all.