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.