Sometimes, happenstance or serendipity, or whatever you want to call it, just happens.
Wild About Vancouver is a celebration of the outdoors being held from April 18-25, 2018. Activities are planned by individuals, schools, sports organizations and community groups and centres. All activities planned during the week are free to participants. The goal for the week is to generate lots of energy, ideas and momentum for participation in outdoor learning, activities and fun that continues well beyond the week long celebration. There are lots of opportunities to participate.
- Get ideas and register on the Wild About Vancouver website. Tweet out lesson ideas, activities, events and blog links. Be sure to include @WildAboutVan so we can retweet and generate some excitement!
Hashtags #getoutside #getoutdoors #outdoorlearning #outdoorclassroom #natureschool
3. Email blog posts to firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Encourage a friend to participate in an outdoor activity.
- Ideas from University Hill Elementary School for the 2018 Wild About Vancouver
- scheduled weekly nature school / outdoor learning experiences
- Hatch butterflies in the classroom
- Create a butterfly garden for them to live in when they are released
- Create an Outdoor Classroom
- Start a leadership group to teach playground games
- Plant Potatoes.
- Start Worm Composting
- Raise salmon fry and release them into the wild
- Read Gillian Judson’s new book, A Walking Curriculum with your staff or community group and try out a few of the walks or ALL 60!
- Host an Earth Day Barbeque
For those interested outdoor enthusiasts outside the Lower Mainland of Vancouver, British Columbia, consider of the continuing the movement in your community!
I inadvertently learned a new word today. I was following the array of posts and articles on happiness and gratitude. Long ago, my husband noted that he had never met anyone who worked so hard at being happy. It was a hard-fought learning from my childhood that has become as natural as breathing, albeit sometimes breathing with a harsh chest cold. The morning reading included yet another article on how the Danish have a long standing record as being the happiest people in the world. Hence the new word – hygge (hue-gah).
The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking, CEO of The Happiness Research Institute, is one of the bibles of this Danish word. Yet, another internet discovery. I was taken through a you tube walk through the homes of both a self acclaimed 100% Danish expert returning from a hard day at work and Scottish Diane in Denmark who is married into the expertise. Apparently life’s simple pleasures really are the best. Wiking lists 10 things that can be found in the typical Danish home to create the comfy, cozy context to induce this relaxed sense of security and contentment. It includes everything from candles (or a fireplace), lamps, blankets, books, hot beverages, to wood furniture, comfy clothes and thick, wooly socks. Apparently I am well on my way to developing my own hygge expertise. I am certainly committed to doing the research.
Betty Boult was the keeper of the knowledge when it came to Stephen Covey and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People when I first started teaching in Abbotsford. She had done the facilitators training and she facilitated with flair. We had animated discussions and were committed to engaging with the ideas and doing the work to complete the workbook meticulously. I can still play out some conversations that resonated and remember my queries around some of the habits. Those were the days when “sharpening the saw” was just a part of daily life and took much less deliberate effort. Saying “no” was not yet part of my repertoire and everything was a priority. These were the days before children and my husband was working just as hard to start his business. The advantage of professional development in Abbotsford was that it was a small enough district that we all did pro-d together. Therefore, the things we learned and ideas we were thinking about, were discussed in the staffroom, as staff socials and the ideas frequently referenced. I think in this way, many of the ideas were incorporated into who I was.
I recently finished reading Stephen Covey’s (2008) The Leader in Me: How Schools and Parents Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time. In this book, the learning is focused on children in K-5, middle and secondary schools, in the United States (the main focus), Singapore, Canada and Japan. The power is that it that the ideas are introduced and developed with entire school populations. Students are taught public speaking and acknowledged for their strengths and encouraged to assume responsibility for leadership tasks within the school.
I remember shortly after my Covey training, I was asked to do the goodbye tribute to my mentor, Joan Fuller, at her retirement function. Public speaking had never been in my comfort zone. Memories of tomato seeds bouncing out of my hand during my 9th grade oral report haunted me. Boring topic. Questionable choice to be holding the smallest of all seeds for an oral report in front of the class. Terrifying teacher who was known to roll her eyes. Nothing good came out of it and I carried a lingering fear of public speaking. However, I loved Joan and had a vested interest in making her retirement special. I was terrified. I was over prepared and tripped over my words. I was glued to my cue cards. My vocal chords constricted. My legs shook. I blushed. And yet, I lived through it. Everyone clapped and smiled. Joan was delighted and cried. And there were no tomato seeds. I drank the Kool-Aid and was excessively proactive and had a passion for professional development. I found myself more and more speaking in front of audiences, in both my professional life and involvement in personal passions. Yes, I was one of the lives that was changed because I had come to understand I had something worthwhile to say.
Covey is frequently referenced but I wonder how many people really understand the ideas and have integrated them into their lives and then regularly revisited. There is a tremendous amount to be learned that directly correlates with empowering, not only adults but children too.
For those of you who need a quick recap of the habits:
- Habit 1: Be Proactive
- Take initiative
- Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
- Set goals
- Habit 3: Put First Things First
- Prioritize and only do the most important things
- Habit 4: Think Win-Win
- Getting what you want while considering others
- Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
- Habit 6: Synergize
- work well with others to accomplish a task
- Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw
- Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep
- Habit 8 (added in 2004): Find Your Voice and Help Others Find Theirs –
- Identify gifts. Optimize them. Develop them.
I recently read a publication in the NY Times Sunday Review called My Kid’s First Lesson in Realpolitik. Annie Pfeifer is a parent bemoaning the need for our children to stand up to bullies. There is recognition of the fact that “helicopter parents” swoop in with speed and vehemence to deal with any conflict, big or small, that his / her child may encounter. The alternative presented is to let kids fight it out, like on the playgrounds in Switzerland, so they learn how to deal with conflict. It is my position that both of these options fail to provide our children with the confidence or skills to deal with conflict. Our kids need educators and families to work together to provide the guidance and mentoring to teach kids how to resolve conflict.
Playgrounds serve to be a microcosm of the world where our kids learn important lessons. They are filled with students who are human. Perfection may not be possible but the aspiration to create a peaceful playground is paramount. We want our future generation to accept that everyone is invited to the party and we all need to learn to co-exist peacefully to create a better reality. A playground is a relatively small fishbowl and a good place to learn about kindness, acceptance, tolerance and to develop problem solving skills.
Peaceful playground require:
- communication skills
- sharing space, equipment and friends
- an ability to express feelings, while considering other people’s feelings
- an ability to understand when you need to self calm and practice those skills
- problem solving skills
- ability to follow safety rules and game rules
Of course the list could go on. We have a number of programs and theories to help us navigate this course. School Codes of Conduct are mandatory in schools in British Columbia and are widely published on school websites. Articles and tweets about the topic of self regulation has become common. @Stuart Shanker has committed to tweeting a daily quote #SelfReg to encourage us to pursue and gain a greater understanding of root causes of our feelings and how to deal with them. .
I particularly like The Zones of Regulation program developed by Leah Kuypers, to teach kids that feeling emotions is never a bad thing but we require strategies to deal with them in ways that keep others and ourselves safe. If you are very angry and in the “Red Zone”, your job is to self calm before you try to problem solve. Kids are fascinated to learn that “yoga” or slow breathing actually causes your brain to calm your body. Science at work!
The Peaceful Playgrounds Program is another program that I really like. Basic messages are framed in a way for kids to easily remember and apply on the playground. It also includes a plethora of ideas of things to keep kids active and problem solving on the playground. Problem solving strategies that you probably remember from your own childhood.
- Rock, Papers, Scissors ( Yes, you commit on 3 – agreed upon rule! ) In several of my other schools, this was know as Ching, Chang, Push, apparently a well established strategy in China too!
War Toys To Peace Art is a group established to fund art projects by peace loving groups of children. The Friendship Bench is one way for kids to find their way into playground activity if they need some additional support. A bench is designated as a space for kids to demonstrate kindness by inviting kids looking for a friend looking for someone to play with. Programs like Jump Rope for Heart give kids a focus and the equipment to get involved in healthy playground activity.
Kids are human and sometimes they will need help resolving conflicts face to face AFTER they have calmed down. When kids don’t make good choices, they need the opportunity to own them. Kids need to be able to express how they are feeling and what they didn’t like in face to face conversations. They also need to learn to listen to other opinions, how the choices he / she made impacted the other person and to develop strategies for how to repair relationships. They also need to learn to move forward after they have dealt with the problem. Adults are there to support kids in dealing with the problems. The goal is for kids to develop the skills to problem solve and the confidence that they can. Adults are involved in the process to ensure that name calling and bullying (physical and emotional ) do not become an accepted norm.
Last week was the annual Grade 6 Camp Elphinstone experience. For students on the South Slope of Vancouver, it is a game changer. Most of the children come to camp and experience a plethora of “Firsts”. This year some of those “firsts” included:
- taking a ferry
- staying in a cabin with friends
- sighting a baby bear
- watching a river otter poop
- catching a fish
- swimming in the ocean
- attempting to hit the bell at the top of the climbing wall
- Meal time and Campfire ritual of songs and chants and debates
- counting the seconds between the forked lightning and thunder
- eating Mexican sushi (actually scrambled egg breakfast wraps)
- setting the table, serving food, and cleaning up
The team building opportunity presented by the camp experience creates a perfect opportunity to develop the essentials of social and emotional learning. This results in a sense of belonging and a wonderful tone going into their final Grade 7 year of elementary school for Tecumseh students. The YMCA has years of providing high quality programming for young people and has all of the elements of the camp experience down to perfection. The camp rituals of family style food service and traditional campfire songs and activities challenge students to take risks, engage in experiential learning and explore their identity. The young counsellors from Canada, New Zealand and Australia are able to keep up with the pace of energetic Grade 6 students and facilitate safe and memorable learning experiences. Our Junior counsellors from David Thompson Secondary and sponsor teachers came together to ensure the best experience possible for our campers.
If you talk to our students, they will tell you they are on a holiday from school. In actual fact, they have simply entered the outdoor classroom to engage in experiential learning masked as fun. The learning is not in just one experience but many experiences in nature and with peers over time. If you have the time and inclination, you may want to open up the redesigned curriculum in British Columbia-Grade 6. The three-day camp experience touched on many big ideas, all of the core competencies and a meaty chunk of curriculum. The social emotional learning is pervasive throughout all of the activities and experiences and indigenous ways of knowing are infused throughout the experience.
Meal time and camp fire included action songs, chants, listening games and debates for students to hone their powers of persuasion. Shelter building required teamwork to come up with a plan to build a shelter from materials on the forest floor that could withstand both the earthquake and water test. Canoeing, kayaking, hiking, the climbing wall and archery challenged students to take risks, learn a new skill and took the development of flexibility, strength and endurance to new levels. The range of games such Running Pictionary, Capture the Flag, Camouflage tag and Wink, Wink, Murder necessitate safety rules, game rules, social interaction, spatial awareness and verbal and non-verbal communication skills.
Upon reflection, the camp experience opens a myriad of possibilities for more intentional curriculum learning. I am not proposing duo-tangs filled with photocopied worksheets. I am proposing that we consider the aspects of curriculum that can be incorporated into the camp experience. Place based Aboriginal perspectives and ways of knowing as outlined in the First People’s Principles of Learning could be clearly articulated. The opportunity to directly teach social emotional skills to allow students to develop coping skills for dealing with stress and for dealing with conflict effectively are present throughout the daily schedule. The consideration of opportunities for direct instruction in mindfulness by tapping into nature and social interaction are plentiful. It means people with background knowledge about the solar system, constellations, local flora, fauna and primary resources become invaluable. Materials such as compasses, Write in the Rain notebooks and field handbooks may need to be purchased. The camp experience may be re-imagined, not as an “extra” but as a vital pathway to develop and incorporate big ideas, core competencies and curriculum knowledge for our students in a meaningful way.
Investigating Our Practice Conference in the Faculty of Education on Saturday, May 14th. The day was filled with poster presentations, talks and interactive experiences by undergraduates, grad students, faculty and alumni. It was particularly exciting to see the level of engagement of the student giving up their very sunny Vancouver Saturday to consider a range of ideas and questions. For those of you who are not Vancouverites, when the sun comes out in full glory, we go outside – never quite certain how long it will be around.
I had the pleasure of presenting The Outdoor Classroom: Taking learning and purposeful play outside, rain or shine with Claire Rushton, Alli Tufaro and Ali Nasato. We were pulled together by a common interest in the opportunity provided by outdoor learning. This one interest was able to pull together so many elements that have been embraced as key ideas in the Redesigned Curriculum in British Columbia, such as:
- The social emotional benefits of engaging with nature
- The natural way in which we can engage students in practicing and understanding the First Nations Principles of Learning, including:
- experiential learning
- patience and time required for learning
- exploring one’s identity
- everyone and everything has a story
- history matters
- there are consequences to our actions
- Ways to engage students in cross curricular learning opportunities
- Connecting classroom lessons to the larger world
- Using resources in the classroom to answer our questions about observations made outdoors
- Reporting back about the things we care about to authentic audiences
Of course, the list goes on. Another interesting aspect of our collaborative group was the power of inquiry in developing our professional practice as educators throughout different stages of our careers. Both student teachers have found a way to focus their professional learning throughout the practicum experience. Claire Rushton, as the coordinator of the Social Emotional Learning cohort has used the outdoors to bring Richard Louv’s work to life and introduce the power of “nature … as a healing balm for the emotional hardships in a child’s life..” by integrating the experiences in nature to frame discussions of social – emotional learning. I have engaged in a personal inquiry of how to use iPad APPS (photos, Drawing Pad, Book Creator, Twitter) as a way to access information, document and share outdoor learning. I’ve also been able to support the staff I interact with on a regular basis in their own inquiries. Inquiry, as framed by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser in Spirals of Inquiry, has provided a framework for beginning teachers as well as a school administrator and university instructor. The learning has fuelled more questions and future inquiries.
I very much hope our collaboration continues…perhaps after the frenetic pace of the end of practicum, final observations and reports and end of year demands and celebrations!
I love December 10th. On that day in 1948, many nations came together to sign The United Nations Declaration of Rights and Freedoms. It is an annual reminder of the acknowledgement that human rights exist, despite what we read in the newspaper, see in the media, and witness all too often in daily interactions. It is also another reminder to have the conversation with our schools about human rights.
The quality of the conversation ranges from surface to particularly moving depending on the year, the person negotiating it and the students. This year has been magic. One of the teachers was reading Hannah’s Suitcase by Karen Levine, about the Holocaust with her 6th Grade students. I was reading Playing War by Kathy Beckwith , to explore why war isn’t a fun game for students coming from war torn countries with 3rd grade students. With the help of a grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children, the conversation morphed into a project to welcome Syrian refugees.
I went down to the storage locker to pull out my Christmas decorations and an old suitcase that Ms. Collins and her 6th graders could use to decorate with images and hold all our messages to welcome the Syrian refugees coming to Canada. The suitcase holding some of my most precious and breakable Christmas decorations caused me to pause. My paternal grandmother had gotten the suitcase on a trip to Russia. She used it to take flight several times with her four young children away from the front line of war in Germany during WWII. Her brother sponsored her and her two sisters and all of their children to come to Canada in 1947. Margriet’s suitcase took her on to the Voldendam to travel to Canada and start a new life.
I am an administrator in a school where many families have made sacrifices to come to Canada with the promise of starting a better life. At the Winter Potluck dinner, messages of support and advice were written to the Syrian refugees coming to Canada. Ms. Collin’s Grade 6 students have been at a booth to tell people about the Syrian refugees and encourage them to write messages to add to the others in the suitcase. Mable Elmore, our MLA for Vancouver-Kensington, has come to talk to students about her job and work with refugees. Yesterday Ms. Collins, on the busiest shopping day of the year, with her daughter in tow, arrived at a community forum to discuss how to support the Syrian refugees that may be arriving in our area. The conversation deepens, the project expands and the possibility for learning and caring expands exponentially.
Richard Wagamese calls it. It’s up to us to create “the best story we can create while we are here”. The celebration of relationships with the earth, family, community and spirits as well as the embedding of history and survival techniques in story is what sustained our First Nations people for thousands of years pre- contact. The importance of embedding story in curriculum has been explored extensively by Kieran Egan at Simon Fraser University and has become a mainstream truth. What is new, is the rediscovery of the fact that embedding memory and history in story to make it meaningful is part of the legacy handed down to our current society by First People’s cultures. Learning about and acknowledging and integrating these foundational truths from First Peoples cultures is how we can truly reconcile our relationship with Indigenous people that has been seriously compromised in the process of colonization and the subsequent quest for economic advantage.
The First Peoples Principles of Learning were written by fnesc (First Nations Education Steering Committee) and the British Columbia Ministry of Education . Laura Tait did an amazing talkat The Changing Results for Young Readers Conference in 2013. It’s well worth listening to her 15 minute presentation, complete with pictures and stories from her family and Tsimshian community to bring life to the words.
For me, the concept that bounced out was the acknowledgement of more than one way of looking at the world. Imagine the wars based on religious intolerance that could have been averted if we had been able to grasp this concept. I think of all of the time it took me to grasp the concept of “sister- cousin” from my Indo-Canadian students. And for me it should have been easy. I grew up with a cousin who was more like a sister and even lived in the same house for a chunk of time. When I finally “got it”, I had to tell Babita, the student who persevered and patiently explaining the relationship of “sister-cousin”. She had persisted with the idea despite my insistent references to the definition of the word cousin. Her eyes were filled with the delight, or was it relief, of a teacher when a student finally understands the seemingly easy concept that has eluded them. It didn’t just take my willingness to try to understand but her patience and perseverance in hanging in there with me on the journey of discovery. We hold on to these little successes along the way. To end where we began, with the words of Richard Wagamese: “We change the world one story at a time.” Babita changed mine.
As every administrator in every school regularly does, I pulled our students together to talk about our Code of Conduct. We decided to divide primary and intermediate students into two smaller groups so I could tailor the conversation about RISE (Respect / Improve / Safe / Encourage ) to each age group. The primaries gathered for the discussion about expectations for behaviour. The big culminating question: So what does RISE look like for a Tecumseh student? Hands shoot up and I pick one from Cole Johnson’s K/1 class. The response: “Be kind everywhere you go.” Done. The wisdom of the 5 year old rules the day! The work to practice and reinforce the message continues.
In Mr. Johnson’s class, that message took on a life of its own. Mr. Johnson clearly understood that the words of his student came with a special power to catalize his students. It became the class motto. When he immortalized the words on a button, they became even more valued. Then he handed them out to each staff member at the year-end breakfast. As I stared at the button, the familiarity was there but not the exact context. Cole Johnson looked at me and said “You remember!” Cole breathed life into the moment. He had accomplished what every great teacher does on a daily basis – tapped the teachable moment.
As a previous Kindergarten teacher, I have a huge appreciation for those who walk that path. Mr. Johnson’s students will be able to say “All I Really Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten” and perhaps publish their own rendition😃
Robert Fulghum (1988). All I Really Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten