Outdoor learning is becoming an increasingly important and celebrated element of the Kindergarten program. As more and more teachers are beginning to embrace true inquiry and play-based learning, time spent outdoors is becoming a focal point of the Kindergarten day rather than a “break from the learning”. Outdoor time IS the learning.
My Kindergarten class spends upwards of two and a half hours outside each day. We begin and end the day outside, which helps us arrive at school smoothly, eliminate transitions (especially with those pesky winter clothes) and get valuable physical activity before entering the classroom. Unless there’s a cyclone, we’re out there.
The school I teach at is very lucky to have an amazing outdoor learning space. Designed by a natural playground company, our outdoor space is filled with sand boxes, stumps, giant logs for climbing and trees. It is an outdoor learning lover’s dream! Not one primary coloured, plastic thing in sight. I really love the pedagogy behind forest schools or completely outdoor schools, and while we aren’t quite set up for that here (or ready for that amount of norm-challenging!), I think our outdoor space comes pretty close.
My students are always engaged when we are outside. Whether it’s finding interesting pieces of nature, building forts, dramatic play or digging in the sand – all of my students are learning.
We love to introduce new and interesting nature activities. In the fall, we began to hone our skills at wood whittling. This can be done safely with proper adult supervision, some potato peelers and freshly picked sticks off a bush or tree. My students always feel so empowered when we allow them to engage in “risky” play!
After the holidays, we asked our families to donate their discarded Christmas trees to our playground. We were so impressed at the response when we returned to find about 30 pine trees laying in our yard! This began the most engaging experience we’ve had outside yet.
Other than a quick chat about making choices that are safe and kind, we didn’t assign any rules to these new materials we had to explore. The children quickly put them to use by moving them around the space, rearranging them into walls, forts and mountains. They climbed on, under and between them. The dramatic play that happened was so rich. Children demonstrated perseverance and grit when they couldn’t lift a tree or got stuck. There was a huge amount of problem solving, communication and collaboration as the students negotiated how to safely move the trees and build different structures.
After a few days of exploring the trees, we interrupted the play by suggesting that we all work together as a class to build a fort. This is when we brought out the hand saws! Saws?! Many people panic at the thought of Kindergarteners using saws. In our program, we are working to empower and build confidence in our students. We want them to have applicable, real world skills. What better time and place to learn how to do “risky” things, than when you have several careful adults supervising and guiding you? So, in our class… we saw!
Students had the opportunity to saw branches off the trees under 1:1 supervision. Once we have enough loose branches, we plan to use sticks and twine to build a large fort in the corner of our playground. We will learn about how to make the structure walls and roof, and our students will take the lead in all of the design and construction process. Talk about a hands-on, authentic project!
We are all at different comfort levels with outdoor learning and exploration. I hope this post might inspire you to rethink and challenge your outdoor play norms to turn it into something valuable and authentic for your students! After all, being outside is our Kindergartener’s natural habitat!