Outdoors that is … This past week was a beautiful one in Ontario, and the summer weather brought with it a desire for kids and adults to get outside. I completely understand! It’s too early to get into summer mode though, and varying routine too much is sure to bring with it behaviour. So what if we embraced the outdoors as a learning space?
I know that all of the Kindergarten educators at our school go outside for at least one long block a day … sometimes more. We’re fortunate to have four different areas for outdoor play, from a fenced in pen space to a beautiful courtyard to a grassy pen area (with an additional mud kitchen) to the big playground space. Each area brings with it a little something different.
At a Reading Specialist Meeting a couple of months ago, a consultant shared her experience as a Reading Specialist and the outdoor learning that she supported at her schools. I was hooked! As my blog readers know, when I was a Kindergarten educator, I was passionate about outdoor play and the wonderful literacy, math, and problem solving opportunities that came from this environment. The consultant also shared how the outdoors can support Self-Reg, and I completely agree. I wondered if this might be another area where we could work to support literacy development in students, while also building capacity in educators, and ultimately, co-planning, co-teaching, and co-problem solving in this space.
I did some more thinking about this plan, and a couple of weeks ago, I sent out an email asking if any Kindergarten educators were interested in me planning a literacy-rich learning experience for the outdoors. It would be about 1 1/2 periods long, and I would do all of the initial set-up and planning. They could be there to experience and document the learning with their kids, and then we could reflect together and look at making modifications based on our observations. While I’ve facilitated a lot of outdoor play before, this was always in different spaces, with literacy being just part of my goal. This would be new learning for me, and it might be a colossal failure or epically wonderful, but I was open to it just the same. 🙂 One Kindergarten team replied right away, so we started to make a plan.
This led to me sending one of my strange request emails to staff this past week, and I was flooded with replies. Not only did educators want to contribute nature items, but more Kindergarten educators wanted their kids to partake in this learning experience.
Soon I had everyone on board! Now to continue to plan for this experience. I’m still finalizing the plans, so I don’t want to share too much yet, but these tweets might provide a bit of a sneak peek.
I have a book on the way today (for an outdoor read aloud to provoke learning), some intentional and open-ended reading, writing, and oral language opportunities, and a little targeted instruction. I’m meeting an educator friend for lunch today to discuss my thinking and do some additional brainstorming. Having worked in all of the Kindergarten classes already this year, I know all of the students and their different strengths, interests, and needs. I want to be able to vary the environment accordingly so that this is a successful experience for all. Yesterday’s snail learning might also connect with some content-area vocabulary development and authentic reading and writing opportunities.
Not only do I hope that we can build on this outdoor play as a Kindergarten team, but maybe as next week’s spring weather transitions to summer weather again, we can look at how some of these learning opportunities could be modified for Grade 1 and beyond. How do you utilize the outdoors for instruction in all grades? What have you noticed as a result? Of course, we’re now expecting a little rain this week, but this could lead to perfect worm and snail weather, so maybe a change in the outdoor environment is not such a bad thing after all. Here’s to getting outdoors and supporting literacy learning at the same time … for nothing brings joy quite like a little fresh air.
An Update …
I don’t usually update my blog posts, but due to the nature of this one, I decided to do so. I spent a lot of time here discussing plans for the outdoor space. After meeting with an educator friend of mine, I finalized my plans for this week. I wanted to share them here in case they’re valuable for anyone else. My hope is that the plans will be tweaked along the way based on feedback from both staff and students. If you have any ideas to share or have thoughts on how to adapt these plans for different grades, I’d love to hear them!