What made it a success?

I love to reflect when things don’t go well, but I also love to reflect when they do. Success is always exciting, and figuring out the “why” behind the success helps with creating the conditions for this success to happen again. On Friday, we had a particularly wonderful experience out in the forest, and my teaching partner, Paula, and I were later discussing what made this experience so great.

Here are many of our thoughts. 

1. The gift of time. We never rush our forest play. Even in the snow, ice, and rain, we try to give enough time for the play to settle, so that we can get to a point of richer and deeper learning. Friday was perfect, as when we opened the gate and headed out to the forest, we saw right away that the students needed to run. Many children played variations of tag games, as they raced with each other through the forest. After a little time running though, they settled, and that was when the conversations changed, the choices changed, and the play changed. 

2. The type, amount, and use of space. The forest is great, as we have enough room in it for all students to find their space. Some areas are covered (as seen in the videos above) and some are more open. Just as students seek out covered areas in the classroom — such as the spaces in our shelves — they also often do so in the forest. Many children find these spaces calming. The forest environment itself adds another calming element with the many vines and roots along the forest floor. This often slows down the children’s movements, and creates a peaceful feeling among the trees. The forest is also full of levels. Climbing trees is incredibly self-regulating for some children, and the spread of children both low to the ground and high in the air creates a different kind of buzz in this space.

3. Being present, but not intrusive. This is something that we continue to work on. When we’re interacting with students, we can often ask them questions that help extend the learning and make links to various math and literacy expectations. But we are forever balancing this desire with knowing when to stand back, observe, and let the children support each other. We both focused on this yesterday. We moved between asking questions to watching (and even walking away), so that children could have the space to work and to problem solve together.

4. Student combinations. The forest is an interesting space, as different children often find each other and play together. It’s when this happens that students also support each other in new ways. We are not the only ones that can model and extend learning. 

5. Small group instruction. Both Paula and I are big believers that forest time is learning time and equally as valuable as the time that we spend together in the classroom. In fact, for some children, this time outside benefits them even more. This is why we always document our time out in the forest, and it’s also why we support students in small groups in this outdoor space. There are many videos above of the two of us sitting down or standing around with groups of students, hearing their ideas, and then extending them — or even providing direct instruction — in different ways.

6. The “team” is there. Having the two of us there is key to this forest success. We can then both work with different groups of students, but also discuss our observations with each other, and even provide some ideas for possible next steps. There are times in the classroom — be it because of nutrition breaks, lunches, or prep times — that the two of us are not together. Sometimes only one person is there. This changes how we can support and extend learning … but in the forest, the “team” is always present, and that means something!

7. Variety is the spice of life! Our forest play is always varied and always directed by the students. We don’t plan provocations, and while we might discuss ways to extend learning from previous days, we try to always follow the interests and direction of the child. Not all children are interested in the same thing, and that’s okay. With the two of us there, we can support the different interests and conversations that happen in this outdoor space. 

8. So many of the 100 languages are addressed in this forest space! It wasn’t until I started teaching Full-Day Kindergarten that I heard about the 100 languages of children, but after hearing and reading about these languages, I’ve done a lot more thinking about how students share their learning. Speaking and writing are very common “languages” that we see in the classroom — in all grades — and I love the use of these languages, but I also love how The Arts and physical literacy become so present in our forest space. Physical literacy, drama, visual arts, music, and dance (movement) were all highlighted outside on Friday, and it was amazing to see how children chose these ways to communicate with each other!

What makes your outdoor learning time successful? How do you extend this learning in the classroom and re-create these positive experiences from day-to-day? I think there’s always value in reflecting, and Friday’s successes were worth some additional reflection time.


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