Nature has been on my mind a lot lately. The reasons for this are three-fold:
- Two months ago, I got a new dog. Russ has been such an awesome addition to my life, as he has gotten me out and walking two times a day. Before I had him, it was much easier to make excuses and be sedentary. Now that I have a little guy to care for, I am motivated to get outside and it’s been a wonderful change in my life to get my daily dose of the great outdoors.
- I recently attended a Saskatchewan Early Childhood Education Council (Sask ECEC) workshop, which featured the expertise of Trina Markusson. She is an expert on Mindfulness (check out her website, Present Moment Living). I could go on about her presentation for a while (perhaps in a separate post), but the biggest thing I took away was that mindfulness is a practice that has to start within your own life first before you can share it with students. I have been actively practicing mindfulness in my personal life since the workshop, and being in nature is one of the best ways for me to stay present in current moment.
- One of my classes in my Masters course this semester is about Supporting Learning the the Preschool Years. This week, the module topic is the outdoor classroom. I just read this piece by Randy White, which I highly recommend taking a look at (it’s a quick read) and it re-ignited my desire to incorporate nature and the outdoors into my practice as an early years teacher.
So what implications does this “green thinking” have for my practice?
While I am extremely lucky, and have a gorgeous indoor classroom, I do find that the outdoor space for our program is rather lacklustre. During my first year in Hudson Bay, our outdoor space featured a large valley, four established trees, and an emerald green lawn.
Unfortunately, the “valley” (really just a big divot or hole) filled up with several feet of water in the spring, which was a drowning risk (several students took unintentional swims in the water), so it had to be filled in. The trees were also taken out because they were dying. The biggest heartbreak of this development, however, is that the holes were filled in with a gravel-like material. The grass in half of the playground was subsequently lost, and replaced with an overwhelming sense of brown where there once was green. Admittedly, our playground has seen a lot of new developments and play structure additions since the photo above, but I don’t find it looks as natural as it first did.
So, enough of my griping and onto what I want to do about my dissatisfaction with this pivotal learning environment that is currently full of untapped potential…
This is an area that I would like to put conscious effort into improving in the future. For my current Masters course, our textbook (below) offers countless inspiring examples of early childhood environments that I would like to attempt to incorporate.
I’m also taking inspiration from a final project I did for a fourth year course during my undergraduate degree. I was interested in outdoor learning spaces back then, too, and created a WordPress site with a smattering of resources and ideas for an outdoor learning space.
Check out the dream outdoor learning space design I created. Even though this was created before I was ever a teacher and had some practice with designing a learning environment, I still think this design holds up fairly well!
So, what are my top ‘wishes’ for an ideal outdoor learning space?
- a green, filled-out lawn
- plants (trees, bushes, shrubs, flowers, vegetables, vines, etc.)
- a mud kitchen
- some type of water feature
- natural play features (boulders, logs, stepping stones, etc.)
- natural loose parts offerings
I want to utilize our outdoor classroom more, and I truly believe that these changes will allow more nature-based learning to occur. The ultimate goal would be to spend entire days outside in all seasons. This would allow the children to experience, first-hand, the daily and seasonal changes that occur over the course of a year and build a meaningful relationship with the great outdoors in their community context. As White (2004) says, “the more personal children’s experience with nature, the more environmentally concerned and active children are likely to become.”
I look forward to attempting to tackle these changes in the coming school year(s). Wish me luck!
If you could have a dream outdoor learning space, what would it look like?
If you could only add one thing to your outdoor learning space right now, what would you choose?
What are your thoughts on nature based learning? How much of it do you currently do in your classroom?
Until next time,