In March, one of the teachers who works at Sibbald Point Outdoor Education Center approached me about a pilot project that had just been approved named “A Week in the Forest”. Our Outdoor Education Centers provide outdoor learning opportunities for all of our students in grades 2, 4 and 7. The intent of the project was to find ways to bring principles of outdoor learning to a school setting. Ms. Murray worked with one of our FDK teams on a urban school mini environmental inquiry. We also partnered with other teams from across our board. Since then, the team, and other classes at our school have continued the explorations. Ms. Mott our Teacher-Librarian extended our Discovery Hub, to the outdoor setting as well. I had the opportunity to join a class and some parents last week in our “outdoor classroom”. It was a wonderful experience.
So what have we learned so far as a team?
The space we chose was a literally a living, vibrant, outdoor classroom that students came to respect. How fortunate are we to have such a beautiful town to learn in as Mount Albert. The students’ natural curiosity led to many explorations and investigations. Here some students explained various findings they made as they explore the outdoor space.
Here a student paints after exploring the forest, his reflections on his discoveries. With the sound of birds chirping and the creek babbling, it was a wonderful source of inspiration.
We were thrilled that parents could join us on the journey as well. One of the parents wrote me with some insightful observations. “By the end of the day in the forest, I began to reflect upon the whole experience. In doing so, it crossed my mind that I had not observed any behavioural issues from children during the entire time the class had been outside. As this is a kindergarten class with a total of twenty-six students, I found this to be fairly remarkable. I have had experience volunteering in the past in this classroom, as well as within my older son’s kindergarten classroom, and I do not think that I have ever witnessed such calm amongst such a group for such a period of time.” This is something we all need to continue to reflect on and explore. Many of our staff now regularly access our outdoor spaces to allow for students to conduct nature walks, physical activity and learning in the outdoors because we find this same calm and focus in students. We do know that outdoor learning appeals to various learning styles and strengths. This is an area we will continue to explore and honour for our learners.
The parent also shared about how the experience allows children to connect to the world around them “On a personal note, I have been delighted to hear about my daughter’s experiences every day after school. When she comes home she is excited to tell me about the caterpillars that they found today, and she wants to “upcycle” all our cardboard recycling to promote environmental friendliness! I love to see her engaged in the world around her, connecting to the world, and using that connection to fuel environmental consciousness.” This was indeed the hope of the project. We know that environmental issues are very important to today’s students. They speak about them and engage in dialogue about the issues often. And, yes, this includes our youngest learners. A fond memory for myself this year was watching our school’s Eco Team that included leaders from K-3 meeting in our Discovery Hub and discussing topics related to the environment.
Finally, I loved the following thought: “One observation that I found interesting was the placement of a man-made playground area, new and fully-equipped, within approximately twenty feet of the edge of the forest. And it occurred to me that not one child seemed interested in leaving the forest to play at the park. It also made me reflect upon how a child plays in the park compared to how he or she may play in the forest. In the park there are pre-set activities: you swing on the swing, slide on the slide, and climb on the monkey bars. But what I was observing with the children playing within the forest was very different. A fallen log became a rocket ship. One child told me that he was chasing a pink and blue bunny rabbit through the forest. The difference was that they were using their imaginations! The playground had activities, but the forest was full of possibilities.” Indeed. We all need to reflect on this observation and consider the “why” behind the engagement. What does this tell us about the conditions we, as adults, set for learning to occur? Rather than it all falling to adults, the weeks in the forest have very much been about adults, and children developing learning opportunities together through inquiry, talk, exploration, observation and discovery. Thanks to everyone’s hard work and vision, we have tapped into something very exciting.
A week in the forest….here’s to many more.