05 Feb The outdoors: future stomping grounds of innovation in education? – Maria Taylor, Nature Play SA Manager Education
I cut my teeth as a graduate teacher on the West Coast of South Australia, where my classroom (almost) overlooked the beach and the beauty of a natural environment was never far away, or far from mind.
I was wholeheartedly embraced by the local community as a 20-year-old city girl, learning what life in the country was all about. I got my car stuck in few paddocks, visited my students’ farms to learn about headers and reapers, floundered in the surf with my brand-new surfboard, and experienced nature and the West Coast wilderness at its finest.
Driving to Back Beach to witness the power of the ocean swell or to catch a sunrise by myself remains at the heart of who I became.
Meanwhile; during the school day, I was charged with shaping the minds of a group of Receptions in a fairly small classroom. Before long, the beach across the road and the wider town centre became our classroom and I quickly realised that I was on to a winning formula with my 5-year old’s. Our frequent adventures gave our learning purpose and context.
We sat on the beach to write, took walks to the jetty, and visited the footy oval to watch a circus tent going up. We simply just went out on adventures; the students’ growing confidence to lead the way outdoors matching my growing confidence to guide learning indoors.
We drew maps to guide our way past student’s houses, wrote thank you letters for people we visited, learnt how to read interpretive signs and counted everything we possibly could. We noticed the changing seasons, birds along our way, developed life skills to keep us safe, and had countless conversations about the world.
These adventures engaged every student and the connections were powerful. The structure worked for us all and as an added bonus: the children were calm, content and by the end of the day, exhausted.
Fast forward 20 years and now I equally love my job. But when people ask what I do, I’m always a bit stumped because the answer changes all the time.
At the core of it, I support schools and teachers to rekindle the magic of learning outdoors with a firm belief that there has never been a more important time to meaningfully connect children and their learning to the real world beyond the classroom (or bedroom) door.
In education circles, we are ready for some (almost literal) blue sky thinking; what does innovation look like outside the classroom?
Why outdoor learning matters
I’m in a position to see continual and sustained high level of engagement and positive relationships blossom between students in outdoor environments, as well as teachers looking calmer, relaxed and energised. While there are ample studies demonstrating the wealth of benefits from outdoor learning and play, from my experience, my gut tells me that in this digital world, the outdoors is where we need to be. (Fun fact – this perspective comes from a position of experience as a passionate digital technologies’ teacher too).
How to take your learning outdoors
You don’t need money, a budget line, or a working party to get started. You need intent and some motivation to step outside and ‘just do it.’ And keep doing it (because who ever had the best lesson indoors without a little practise?) Just remember to step back at some point and watch, listen and feel it too.
The magic really comes from the simplicity of the experience and I think that was what I had all those years ago on the West Coast.
Keep it simple
Time and time again teachers eagerly share the simple ways they have built great routines and relationships with students through a daily walk on school grounds or a mindfulness session outdoors that perhaps led to an inquiry into what was happening in that space.
Some wonderings: what could be your class or your child’s outdoor learning experience today? Remember it can be simple and it can be a small step. As long as it’s a step OUT.
Perhaps it could be:
- A walk around the school grounds or garden
- 5 or 10 minutes sitting in a ‘sit spot’ to enjoy some quiet reflection – simply noticing the world as time goes by
- Looking for numbers in the natural world
- Exploring vocab development in describing small treasures from nature
- Storytelling around a campfire or under the shade of a tree
- Adopting a small parcel of the school grounds as your class’ special place to meet.
Perhaps getting out there with the smallest of agendas, might just provide students with the opportunity to step up and find their something. To use the wise words of Winnie the Pooh… “Sometimes doing nothing, leads to the very best of something.”
If you are wondering about the ‘how’ and ‘when’ for your class or school, our Education team is available to help you take the next step. Discover our range of programs or contact us today at [email protected]