Teachers across the Halton District School Board have been increasingly taking learning outdoors as they continue to find creative ways to teach their students while safeguarding one’s health amid a global pandemic.
The HDSB has placed a focus on outdoor education for several years and that focus has taken on greater importance this school year. Educators are using the outdoors to engage students in exploration, discovery and physical activity.
At Gladys Speers Public School in Oakville, teacher Kimberly Dixon has embraced the outdoor space to help her Kindergarten students learn.
“We take our first block of learning outside every day and we will continue to do this through the seasons,” she says. “When we get outside, we go to our outdoor classroom, where we are able to sing and read a book together. After this, we have different activities planned each day, whether that is learning about the seasonal changes that are happening, developing our fine motor skills and practicing writing with sidewalk chalk, experimenting with the wind with our ribbon wands, collecting natural treasures for our treasure boards, and painting with our ‘Imagination Paint’, which is water and paintbrushes on the pavement, just to name a few.”
By learning outside, Dixon explains students are connecting with nature and each other in new ways, and learning that there is much to explore while outdoors.
“We talk about respecting the Earth and nature on a daily basis, ensuring we are being careful around trees and plants. We can ask questions and be curious. We will be taking more writing, painting, and drawing outside in the coming days, where students can document what they see, hear, and feel when outdoors,” Dixon says. “Making use of the outdoors is extremely effective in a situation like a pandemic as it allows for the movement that students need throughout the day and it gives them an extended period of time to connect with nature. Students have the most vivid imaginations and going outside allows students' imaginations to lead them in any direction.”
When asked what they enjoy about being learning outside, Kindergarten student Noah says: “Finding treasures for my treasure board and reading books outside."
Kindergarten student Mable says: “That I get to explore with my friends.”
Wendy Holmberg, Program Lead Health and Physical Education/Athletics, at Abbey Park High School in Oakville, says educators have been getting creative in all kinds of ways to help their students fulfill their physical education learning requirements. Teachers have brought stationary bikes outside into the school courtyard, turned sections of the school track into a pickle ball court and utilized the trails system around Abbey Park HS for fitness class students to power walk.
“This year, we have had to get super creative because of the situation we are in,” Holmberg says. “I did some research over the summer and had the opportunity to purchase equipment to allow my staff to be creative to use spaces around Abbey Park to maximize our time with our students this year and minimize the contact they have with one another.”
One outcome of being physically active outside is that students have had to learn important problem solving skills, Holmberg says, and uses pickle ball as an example.
“Students have had the opportunity to problem solve with regards to wind and the unevenness of the track and use these obstacles to their advantage in beating their opponent. I really saw a learning curve with regards to sport game strategies and the skill set of some of the students really improved in the time they were participating in this activity.”
Shaun Else, teacher at John T. Tuck Public School in Burlington, says learning outside as much as possible, particularly in the first month of school, is an effective way for students to get to know each other better.
“Because group work is so important any time in school but especially in the first month or so to build community,” he says. “I feel that going outside gets them a little more physically closer to engage each other and learn about each other. They may not have a chance to work with that person across the classroom until we are outside. We get to be maskless, we can hear each other and we can see our smiles and full expressions.”
“Through curriculum based experiences, students deepen their appreciation for the outdoor environment and make important connections to their surroundings when learning outdoors,” says Laurie Reid, System Principal, Elementary Education with the HDSB. “In a world where technology rapidly changes to meet human needs, connections to the outdoor world and community outside the traditional classroom are essential to building students’ authentic real-world skills.”