Back to School: Now, Get Out!

This is it. The start of a new year. You’ve got the motivation. You’ve had the go ahead and you’re ready to take learning outdoors! Where to start? Here are a couple of things that it might be useful to think about.

Buy a book

Get inspired. Something like ‘The Curious Nature Guide’ is a great book for the beginning of the year. It has lots of ways to encourage your students to slow down, notice and connect with nature. Did you know that there are 1440 minutes in a day? Surely we can pause, be quiet and listen for the sounds of nature for just 1 or 2 of them?!

The Curious Nature Guide – Clare Walker Leslie

The schedule

How much time have you got and how are you going to fit it in? There is no magic formula for fitting in with a schedule. Every organisation is different, things change every year and you need to be flexible. Aim for long blocks of time where possible.

This is how we’re integrating with 2nd grade this year. We’re taking kids every other day in half classes, which leaves core classroom teachers with 11 students. Our current problem is the lack of whole class time on Outdoor Learning days. Right now, this is ok because OL is driving the unit of inquiry. In unit two, things might change again.

For more suggestions on how to integrate, check out our ‘Getting Support‘ page.

The space

Take a fresh look at your space. Are there any big plans for the upcoming year? Remember the golden rule: don’t make any changes without students! Your space will change throughout the year. Remember to incorporate this when you are planning. 

Clothing and boots

Remind your students to be prepared. At our ‘Back to School Night’, we let parents know that it is not their fault if students are ill-prepared. Students should be aware that it is their responsibility to have enough clothing to be warm and dry. The blaming of parents, grandparents and pets is not an acceptable excuse. Consider a system for telling students what they need on a given day, otherwise you will find yourself repeating “boots and jacket, please”. 

Routes and routines

How are students going to get to your outdoor space? If the weather calls for it, where are they going to put on/take off their boots? Will the shoes be in somebody else’s way while you are outside? Who is going to sweep up afterwards? A bit of thought beforehand can negate people knocking at your door complaining about the mud in the corridor. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: The first time you wear the boots will be fine. It’s the second time, when the boots are full of mud and they’ve been drying in the lockers for a day. That’s when the mud goes everywhere. 

Ground rules and boundaries

Depending on your affinity to chaos, you might like to think about some ground rules before heading out there. “No Pick, No Lick” is a great place to start. The phrase sums up the importance of respecting the space and not eating anything! Beyond that, have a think through how your school rules apply to your outdoor space. For us, “Be Safe” & “Be Respectful” transfer really well. 

“No Break, No Take” is also useful for discussions around resource management and the desire to take everything home! If everyone takes a stick home, then will there be any left? If we break all of the long sticks into the length that we need, what happens when we need long sticks? Put it back and look for one which is the length you need. 

Slowly slowly, catchy monkey… 

The program that exists at our school has been an 11 year process in the making. Things started down in reception and made its way up to prep, then grade 1 and finally to grades 2-5. The spaces were developed in that order. And it took ages. 

It’s ok start small. Be careful of trying to go zero to hero. Concentrate on what you’re doing and be aware of not spreading yourself too thin. If that grade 12 science teacher really wants to take student learning outside too, that’s great. Don’t break your neck coming up with ideas for them when you could be focusing on your 3rd grade learning experiences. If they’re excited, they’ll come to you! 

Record it and shout about it

For sure, any kids that you take outside are going to go home and tell anyone who will listen about their awesome day. You should do the same. Put photos on your class blog or school Facebook page. Connect to people on Twitter. Invite your principal and director to come outside with you to witness the awesome.

Go forth and take learning outside.

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