Transitioning into a new school year is a big adjustment for kids of all ages. New lessons and routines await but, that doesn’t have to mean the end of outdoor time for your children. Schools across Manitoba are incorporating outdoor learning into education programs more and more each year and, with support from families and parents, such programs will continue to sprout, grow and flourish.
So what can you do to support outdoor learning in your child’s school?
Here are some questions and tips for getting started:
1) Find out what is already being done.
It may sound obvious, but sometimes communication breaks down between schools and the parent community. Make the first step. Talk to your child’s teacher and principal. Are there plans in the works for an outdoor classroom? A garden? Is there a Green Team or Nature Club? Does the school have an outdoor initiative such as Weekly Walks? Educate yourself about the dreams and challenges your child’s school is facing when it comes to
outdoor learning. Ask how you can get involved.
2) Simple Resources.
A naturescaped schoolyard may be the dream, but in reality your child’s school may not have the funding or capacity to be there yet. Talk to your child’s teacher about simple ways to get children outdoors. Are there cheap resources that would make outdoor learning easier and more effective? Some schools or classrooms create a “library” of outdoor learning equipment. This might be a collection of rain boots and tarps, a class set of gardening gloves and trowels, or a Rubbermaid bin filled with magnifying glasses, nets, nature books, and art supplies. Sometimes schools or teachers already have such items on hand and might just need help organizing them. Parent councils also can often help with supplies like these.
3) Community Green Space.
If your school does not have an outdoor learning space in the school yard, find out what other spaces are nearby. Unfortunately, not all teachers take the time to explore their school’s neighborhood. What parks or natural features are available within a 20-minute walk of your child’s school? Talk to your child’s teacher about the local area and volunteer to accompany your child’s class on walking excursions. Often concerns about safety and logistics stop teachers from taking advantage of local outdoor spaces. Another pair of adult hands can be a major help.
Recess is the obvious outdoor part of your child’s school day. But how is recess structured at your child’s school? Is exploration and free play encouraged? What about gardening? How is supervision organized? What equipment is available? Talk to your child’s teacher about creating a “recess bin” with materials for independent outdoor exploration. Loose items left on the playground may get stolen or pose a risk as projectiles in the evening (e.g. thrown through school windows), but students can take materials out onto the playground with them and return them to the classroom afterwards.
In the big picture, how can you help your child’s school to develop its school grounds? Hiring a landscape architect and purchasing building materials can be very expensive. Schools are often willing to put in the effort to create and support a plan, but they need community support and involvement. As part of the parent community you can be a valuable advocate by talking with other parents, members of the community, and helping to raise funds.
6) Express your support!
Perhaps the most important thing you can do is voice your support for outdoor education loud and clear. Positive feedback goes a really long way. Make the effort to speak out whenever you notice any efforts towards outdoor education and encourage other parents to do the same. In a world where, too often, negative feedback and fears control educational decisions, your voice can truly make a difference for your child and school.
Keep rocking in the outdoors!
Madeleine is an educator with a passion for taking children outdoors. She has worked as a nature interpreter at Fort Whyte Alive, Redwood National Park, and Whiteshell Provincial Park. She has also taught Outdoor Education at Foothill Horizons Outdoor School in California and coordinated the wilderness program at Capital Camps in Pennsylvania. Madeleine is currently a grade four/five classroom teacher in Seven Oaks School Division.