In my last post, I wrote about rethinking my own relationship with the outdoors. Here are two amazing books that have truly inspired me to take teaching outside. I think they are worth a read for any aspiring or experienced outdoor educator!
Literacy Moves Outdoors, by Valerie Bang-Jensen
In a moment when mental health and wellness are top of mind, there are fewer things more powerful than spending time outdoors. There are days when I spend more time on a screen than I want to admit, and I am always amazed at how much better I feel after disconnecting and walking in fresh air for an hour. With kids using tools like Brightspace or Google classroom to access resources routinely, it is important to bring learning outdoors as much as possible to counterbalance the screen time.
The question that remains is how: how do we take outdoor learning beyond exploring, being in an outdoor classroom, or focusing solely on science-related subjects? Valerie Bang-Jensen shares her solutions in her 2023 book, Literacy Moves Outdoors.
For me, Literacy Moves Outdoors was a refreshing read after a year of professional learning about reading instruction and phonemic awareness. Bang-Jensen’s resource is all about how educators can take literacy learning: vocabulary building, decoding, storytelling, and more into outdoor spaces like school yards and gardens. And you don’t need to be in a nature reserve or field centre!
For example, she explains how hopscotch can be used as Elkonin boxes, the ins and outs of creating a story walk using picture books and student created texts, and how signs might be used to help students to develop questions. As a teacher of English learners, I could visualize how all of these activities might be used to build vocabulary and literacy skills, even for emergent learners.
Literacy Moves Outdoors is extremely practical for teachers and a pleasure to read or listen to on audiobook. Unlike a lot of of other educator books, there is less focus on the theoretical underpinnings of the pedagogy, and more on actual activities educators can do with relative ease. In a school context where the mental health and well-being of students is an increasing priority, Bang-Jensen delivers a book that will get educators excited about taking students outdoors.
Dear Street, by Lindsay Zier-Vogel
The last few years have been tough on cities. In my social media scrolls, it is rare that I come across a post on Toronto without dozens of users either commenting negatively on the city or broadcasting how happy they are that they left. As a longtime resident of Toronto, I’m always surprised at the online vitriol: I think it’s a great place to live and yes, has problems just like anywhere else.
When I came across Zier-Vogel’s book on one of my Instagram scrolls, I was immediately drawn in. Here was a picture book that was both a story about writing, gratitude, and being in love with the city or place you live in. The story is about a child named Alice who hears the usual complaints about the city and community: “too crowded”, or “too warm!”
Alice responds by writing “love letters” to her city, leaving her notes on park benches, piles of leaves, and other places they can be found by her neighbours, future friends, and fellow community members. “Dear Park,” she writes, “You are the perfect place to picnic, especially in the summer.” Her notes put a smile on people’s faces, and remind us all to be thankful for the beauty in our everyday surroundings.
What I love about this book as an educator is how it centres the urban outdoors and the power of gratitude. The book is gorgeously illustrated with the colours of passing seasons. Diverse characters spring to life on every page. Perhaps most importantly, Zier-Vogel connects the acts of writing and reading to outdoor spaces, creating a wonderful prompt to get students of all ages penning a love letter to their environment. I could immediately see the book as part of a lesson for language arts and social studies.
Both Literacy Moves Outdoors and Dear Street are excellent additions to your school’s library. They will not fail to inspire you to take learning outdoors!