But one of our favorite adaptive measures currently is taking kids outside to learn. And learn all subjects—math, reading, science, PE, Bible, band—more than you may expect.
“This year I kept asking, ‘Are we just trying to survive this coming year, or are we reimagining education to make learning better?’” said Sue Vos, fifth grade teacher at Rose Park. “When I see an opportunity to teach something outdoors, we go for it! And we’ve been blessed with more supports than we usually have—resources from the ODC [Outdoor Discovery Center], such as ‘Boot Camp,’ naturalists, consults,” along with regular ODC visits, or parents dropping off bikes for field trips.
And teachers are seeing some lovely unexpected benefits from teaching and learning outside.
Like spiritual benefits: “There is a peace-filled atmosphere that is absolutely evident as we pull up to an outdoor classroom,” first grade Rose Park teacher Sheila Dokter said. “My class now refers to a particular spot we go to often at Pigeon Creek as our ‘cathedral.’ We pause to praise the One True God, who certainly gave us a remarkable place to learn and grow. Now when we pull up, kids often remark, ‘We’re back in our cathedral!’”
And learning can often be more memorable outside: “We were reading outside in forts we had built when I looked over to see a group of kids running around their fort in a circle. ‘Oh, Mrs. Dokter, our fort is the sun and we’re the asteroids that are circling it! Did you know an asteroid is a big rock in space? Look—it’s right here in our book!’” Sheila Dokter said. “I was pretty amazed at the engagement and creativity of these young learners. I know to my core, this learning was sparked by the atmosphere of nature we were embedded in. They truly come alive…”
All teachers admitted there was a bit of a learning curve, that kids needed to be taught how to learn outside, and that “Things feel a bit bumpy and uncomfortable when we try to take our curriculum outside,” Sue Vos said. “It’s not always easy to let go of control as teachers when we take the boundaries of the classroom away. On the other hand, we feel freedom to do things differently and we want the outdoor experience because we know there are many benefits, but we also want our students to find meaning in the experience.”
So HC teachers have been intentional and creative about what kids are learning outside. Obviously reading fits well outside, so now students are accustomed to carrying their beach towels outside for reading, and get creative about how to block the sun from their iPads or laptops when they need to do work outside. Rose Park second grade Spanish Immersion teacher Andrea Cantu teaches math placement using leaves, rocks and sticks to mark the 100s, 10s, and 1s places for math numbers. Other students practiced spelling words with jump ropes, a jump for each letter, using kinesthetic learning as well. Bible stories become more memorable and meaningful when drawn on sidewalks with chalk, or acted out in natural shelters.
The trick obviously becomes what to do in winter, since most kids don’t have the benefit of Oaki suits like the Forest School kids. But teachers are still interested in making learning work outside as much as possible. They’re still planning regular visits to Kamp David, the ODC, or Pigeon Creek Hemlock Crossing, Stu Visser trails, or even on their own playgrounds and green spaces around the schools—just with the addition of snow pants and boots for warmth—for as long as we are able to teach in person.
“Students really enjoy working outside; they are alert, eager, attentive and curious. They take delight in the beauty around them—fall leaves, running down a hill on the trail…it’s such a great way to do school,” Karina Schebor finished. “There is so much benefit to experiencing God’s world and noticing His fingerprints, rather than just reading about the world He made.”