I am a long-time advocate for the social, emotional, physical, and cognitive benefits of learning outdoors. Part of it is based on observational research. You take kids outdoors and you tap into joyful learning. All of the learning inspired and put into practice by Reggio Emilia after the second World War, unfolds when children are given the freedom to explore the outdoors, and are able to show their learning with loose parts they pick up along the way. There is palpable joy when children make connections with their own experiences and books they are familiar with. The curiosity is not taught. It is allowed to flourish by encouraging questions and plans to figure out answers.
The connections to learning across the curriculum sometimes emerge from personal inquiry but can easily be scaffolded. As many educators before me, I put together outdoor learning backpack kits to structure some of these connections. Each backpack had some basic materials:
- String to help measure round things
- Magnifying glass
- Waterproof notebook
- Large sized rope to practice tying knots
- A dollar store silver blanket to sit on when it’s damp
- Large plastic tweezers
- Plastic guide to the birds of BC from the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Then kids were free to customize their backpack with other essential items. Sometimes this included rocks and sticks. These items are never to be underestimated. I have a stick that I collected on the beach with my Grandpa Keenan when I was five and rocks collected as souvenirs with my father while hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains. These seemingly worthless items carry precious memories and a well-developed voice that is so essential in personal writing.
Children will spend hours without prompting learning to use the tools and document their observations. There is no need to measure lines on a worksheet when you have ample practice measuring with a ruler and measuring a length of string that you’ve wrapped around the base of a tree. Bringing a cell phone or an iPad was helpful to document large constructions and loose part representations of learning that could be added to portfolios. Notepads would facilitate close attention to details during observations. The desire to share discoveries would drive the development of new vocabulary, the development of public speaking skills and send kids back to books and search engines to research or journals to record stories.
Inviting someone with well developed background knowledge of science or an artist who records observations in different ways in focusing student attention on specific aspects of the outdoors and great to stimulate good questions. Creating rain gauges to measure rainfall or using litmus paper to check the pH or chemicals to make discoveries about water sources are framed as inquires rather than assignments. We don’t want students to be passive receptors for knowledge. After all, this is the “age of google” when phones are considered necessities rather than luxury items. Information is literally at our fingertips. We want students who ask good questions and are able to devise a research plan or science experiment to find answers or perhaps possibilities. We want innovators who keep asking questions. Children who pay attention and demonstrate curiosity. Children who are joyful learners.
A Wild About Vancouver Wednesday Blog Post
– posted on Thursday 🙂