Last year I had the pleasure of teaching in the smaller community of Dundas, Ontario. My school was located just a two minute walk from the charming, very walkable, downtown area. This got me thinking about how I can use the community as my main teaching resource.
As important as it is for children to build a sense of community within a classroom (Belonging and Contributing!), I believe it is equally as important to build this sense within the larger community. At a school where a wealth of enriching experiences was just a short walk from our classroom door, we decided to make this a large part of our program.
One of my favourite aspects of the year was the amount of walking trips that we went on. Since we obtained walking trip permission forms at the beginning of the year, we were able to take our class on adventures out in the community whenever it suited our programming. Here are all of the places we took our class last year:
Coffee Shop – When our children wanted to make a coffee shop in our dramatic play centre, we extended their learning by arranging a visit to a real one nearby where they got to go behind the counter and serve their own hot chocolate!
Animal Hospital – When an inquiry led us towards learning about veterinarians and pets, I connected with a friend who is a veterinarian who provided us with real life materials for our dramatic play centre. The next week, we went for an hour-long tour of the animal hospital and a “day in the life” experience!
Book Store – After a visit from an author, we walked to the local bookstore to look for and purchase a copy of her book for our classroom. This led to some great discussions about how books can be sorted and organized.
Dundas Museum – One day, while out for a walk, we watched construction crews use a crane to lift an antique steam hammer onto an installation on the front of the museum. We watched for nearly half an hour as they lowered the large machinery into place, and came back a few weeks later to confirm our hypothesis about what that machinery actually was and why they were putting it in the museum!
Community Park – When our outdoor learning program needed a little change of scenery! We also used the directions to the park as an opportunity for some learning about directions and maps.
Down Town Strip – After a discussion about places in the community one day, we took the class on a walk down the main strip of downtown. Equipped with clip boards and pencils, we invited the children to document what they saw. This led to some beautiful discussions and connections to familiar words, signs, logos and numbers they saw as they walked!
The Mail Box – A few times, we mailed letters or thank you cards to our special guests and walked to the community mail box to drop them off.
A Construction Zone – During our inquiry about structures, we extended the learning by walking to a nearby construction site and observing the workers for a short while. We were lucky that a foreman came over to answer all of our questions!
Our Neighbourhood – We made sure to go for a neighbourhood walk at least once a week, usually twice. We made observations about nature, house numbers, street signs, cars, architecture, and whenever possible, pointed out the students’ houses.
And, when we couldn’t walk, we took the bus for three trips to:
Community Theatre – I work and teach at a local theatre and arranged for my class to attend a matinee performance of our current show. For many, it was their first experience with live theatre. I was also able to take them on a backstage tour afterwards! I think there is a lot of value in showing your “real” side to students by sharing important parts of your life with them.
Butterfly Conservatory – To extend our inquiry about life cycles and insects.
Children’s Museum & Maker Space – This was our year end trip this year. We spent the day exploring the hands-on exhibits at The Museum in Kitchener, and also got to participate in two workshops: one about using colour in visual arts and another problem solving challenge to solve a puzzle by finding clues around the museum.
We also had a variety of rich experiences that came from people in the community that visited our classroom. Whether they were sharing knowledge, a new skill or facilitating an activity, each special guest that came to visit us brought with them something that enriched our classroom in a way that we couldn’t on our own. Between parents and other family members of our students, we had the following visitors:
A Musician and Sound Engineer – A father came in at the end of our music inquiry to play guitar for us and then make a recording of our “orchestra”, which we then shared with all of our families.
University Engineering Students – Arranged by an engineer parent, we had a workshop about engineering and each child got to design a robot that balances!
An Apiologist [A honey bee researcher!] – A mother came in and prepared a hands-on workshop about honey bees and how we can save them, as a compliment to our insect inquiry.
A Fisheries and Oceans Scientist – Another father came to teach us about fish and clams during our inquiry about the ocean!
Two Children’s Book Authors – A friend of mine came to read her book about math, and one of the children’s aunts came to read her children’s book as well! Both followed with a Q&A session about being an author.
A Visual Artist – One mother came every Wednesday to share a visual arts invitation with the children during play.
A Sushi Chef – We had a sushi day and children had the opportunity to make [allergy friendly] sushi, which led to some wonderful discussion about food from different cultures.
An Outdoor Learning Specialist – The owner of the natural playground company that designed our play space came every Friday to bring new outdoor learning opportunities for us. Some of our favourites were wood whittling, threading berries onto string for the birds, berry picking and making syrup from scratch by harvesting it from nearby maple trees.
A Violinist – A parent that played the violin came in to demonstrate the instrument, which allowed us to make great connections during our music inquiry.
A Children’s Music Artist – A neighbour to the school, and friend of a parent, was a locally famous children’s musician. He came in to sing and perform for our class!
The community was an integral part of our programming. It was such a powerful resource to have, and it really was at our finger tips – all we had to do was ask.
This year, I’ve moved on to a new town, new school and new grade. I know I was very lucky to spend a year in that wonderful community, and I only hope I can recreate the same experiences for my new class. More on that to come!
How do you make use of your local community in your teaching?