We met, discussed opportunities, and then planned together to create a program for our children that could be implemented both at our own school (on the yard, the tarmac, the green space) and in a local forest (to provide our children with an opportunity to connect to nature locally).
We entered this experience with a completely open mind. Both of us knew very, very little about nature based, outdoor learning. However, I would say that we were both very open to learning, eager to try new things, and open minded to the learning taking on many different directions.
We wanted to share a few of our learning reflections from the year that may resonate or support your learning journey the same way that they have guided ours:
Allow the Children to Take the Lead
When you engage with children in the outdoors, slow down to watch what they are doing, saying, noticing, wondering. Make note of what they are drawn to and reflect with your children and teaching partners about how you can extend their interests. Don't overthink it - do your children like to climb? balance? run? dig? engage with dramatic play?
You don't necessarily need to "overplan" when you are outdoors. There are not magical materials that will make outdoor learning work better for you and your children.
There are however lots of simple tools that you can use to extend, capture, and engage in play.
|ID sheets from University of Guelph Arboretum|
|Outdoor Seating: Foam Mats|
|Bug Jars or Collectors|
Slow Down and Think About....
Slow down and think about what is happening in your learning space or forest. This is something that Rebecca, Lindsay and Josh intricately and naturally did. They introduced concepts, ideas, and nature when it made sense and the changes in the environment became the focus on our learning.
We found that before learning in the forest last year, we were often stretching ourselves to think about what we could add to our outdoor environment or what we could learn about outdoors. But when we slowed down and watched these educators introduce simple concepts we realized that we were often overthinking things!
In the forest, we read stories, listened to oral stories (narrated by the educators), used props and materials in the forest to engage with all of the changes and parts of our environment.
For example, we looked at different types of leaves and trees in the forest. We collected and noticed many different insects and creatures living in the forest (sometimes it was their traces that were pointed out). We learned about how animals stay warm during cold weather making connections to how we could keep our bodies warm. After noticing an interest in balance, we listened as stories were told about how different animals balance when they navigate through the forest.
Allow the Outdoors to Teach Empathy
One of our favourite moments of last year we actually when our classroom started noticing many little visitors coming through the walls and doors...ants! Some children started stamping on them and others were scared or nervous. So much of how children react comes down to how we react as educators. Instead of thinking of a way to get rid of the ants, we took interest in them alongside the children. "Wow, look at how tiny they were" or "I wonder if there are different types of ants". We added a small collection of magnifying glasses, clipboards and books for the children to study and connect with the ants instead of fearing and stomping on them!
We read "Hey Little Ant" a story that encourages children to take the perspective of ants and think about how they would feel if they were so tiny and small!
We then translated this interest into the forest after learning that there are so many different types of ants. We searched for logs and rocks that we could lift up so that we could look closely at the different ants and how they interacted as a community.
Don't be afraid to NOT know...
So many stories and so much of the information was as new to us as it was to the children! We often found ourselves photographing things, taking notes and then asking experts in the community or researching things online so that we could provide the children with more to think, connect, and talk about!
When we first started, we couldn't identify all of the trees in the forest and we certainly didn't know the different types of insects that the children were scooping up in their hands. But when we took a learning approach to our engagement we became so curious that we found ourselves filling our own brains with new knowledge and a much deeper appreciation for the beautiful environment that we live in!
Don't be afraid of the outdoors. You certainly do not need to be an expert before getting your feet dirty in the mud alongside the children! Just take a risk - we ask our children to take risks everyday! Plan some intentional time to be outdoors with children, slow down and engage with them among nature - we promise you will find it as rewarding as we do!