Why is there a little bit of fear and hesitation in the minds of many teachers when taking a class outside is mentioned? The very thought of taking a class of rambunctious children outdoors–a space commonly associated with recess or play–can be somewhat intimidating to teachers who are hoping to teach a lesson and maintain some level of order. It is my belief, however, that taking learning outdoors can actually relax students and keep them on task for a longer period of time. Every Student Learns Outside™ is one example of an initiative to promote more outdoor, real-world learning by dedicating one school day to outdoor education. It is a small, but important step to increase awareness that learning can and does exist outside of the school building. Educational opportunities are everywhere. The spectrum of learning does not solely consist of reading textbooks, listening to lectures, and regurgitating information back to the instructor. A single leaf from a tree, blade of grass, or handful of dirt contains the potential for an authentic learning experience. Through art making, writing, and other sensory interactions with the natural environment, students can establish deep connections and lasting knowledge of the concepts discussed in the classroom–regardless of the subject being taught. (I will talk about this more in later posts).
This call for real world explorations and learning must begin with the teachers. As educators, we must be willing to leave the safety of our classrooms and venture out into the unknown. A great starting place is to schedule a specific time in the day, week, month, or year, to dedicate to outdoor learning. It does not have to be a full day, as suggested by the “Every Student Learns Outside” initiative. The experience could vary from a five minute explorational time at the beginning of class, to an entire class period of field sketching, to an entire school day devoted to outdoor learning. However, it must be consistent in order to develop some level of comfort and habit in the minds of both the students and teachers.*
*Please note: I have spoken with many teachers who have wanted to incorporate more outdoor learning into their curricula, however, due to their inexperience or discomfort in the natural environment, have elected to bring nature to their students or avoid outdoor learning entirely. If this is you, START SMALL. On your own, go for a nature walk. Sketch something that sparks your interest–an irregular leaf, a rock, an animal, the texture of tree bark, the shape of a stick. Try to take a trip like this once or twice a week for about a month. Once you have established your own level of comfort with the natural world and have explored the benefits of this type of learning, you will be much more willing to take your classes outside.