The Arts

Art is powerful. Whether through music, dance, drama, or visual arts, it has the ability to take us to other worlds, giving us a glimpse into the experiences of others. It also allows us to explore how we might share our experiences creatively through movement, sound and visuals. In this post, I’ll share a couple of upcoming virtual field trips you might be interested in participating in with students. 

The AGO Virtual School Programs

Students from kindergarten through grade 12 can experience the Art Gallery of Ontario’s collection through their virtual school programs. I’ve shared in the past that this was a hit for my students and this year, they’ve added something I haven’t seen before. On Fridays, there’s Artmaking 101! This is an opportunity for students – and yes, teachers – to try simple drawing techniques – inspired by the elements of design. It’s a practical way for students to engage with a work of art, discuss a particular element, and then have the chance to play around and/or practice. I love this idea! April is all about one of my favourite elements, colour.  Give it a try!

YOU Dance

Every year, The National Ballet of Canada provides students with the opportunity to learn with and from Apprentices and Ballet Teaching Artists. Prior to Covid, schools could register to have a Ballet Teaching Artist visit but now, with a virtual demonstration, more classrooms can have the opportunity to participate. Last year, I had students get up and move around, trying out some of the dance movements and it was a great opportunity for them to learn a new art form and to think about dance in a different way. The before and after questions certainly helped to create meaningful conversations around what the students would see and experience. This year’s performance is on Friday, May 20th, from 12:15 to 1:15 pm ET. There’s still time to sign up.

I know that Art has played an important part in my life. Music can bring about strong feelings of nostalgia and visual art is one tool that I use to help support my mental health and well-being. In what ways do the Arts impact your life? How might we consider this in our daily work with students? In what ways might we infuse more Art and in turn creativity? These are some questions that I am pondering.

Virtual Field Trips: Connecting With the World Beyond the Classroom

The pandemic has changed the ways in which we can explore the world around us. Rather than being able to sign up to go on a field trip, many educators are opting for virtual field trips. With so many options out there, how might we ensure that we use these opportunities to connect it back to the learning in the classroom and to life in general? I ask this because I’ve been guilty of giving students these links to get them to simply explore but I wonder if there is more that we might do with these incredible opportunities. In this post, I’ll share a few ideas that I have.

Zoos & Aquariums

The San Diego Zoo and Ripley’s Aquarium are 2 sites for virtual field trips related to zoos and aquariums. I have to admit, these creatures are amazing to look at and I think it’s incredible that we have the opportunity to watch them live. 

While watching, it got me thinking about a debate we had in class several years ago about zoos.  After researching a variety of animal habitats, we used found materials to create our own zoo of sorts in our classroom. Students were tasked with determining what conditions needed for their animal of choice to survive and to build their habitat. Once all of the habitats were created, we organized the animals into areas that we thought made sense based on their needs. It was pretty cool and it led us to start talking about animals in their real habitats and in zoos. 

We researched and discussed differing opinions and feelings about zoos. 

A zoo supporter might say:

  • The zoo is a fantastic place to learn about and see animals from different parts of the world.
  • Zoos help to keep animals safe so that they don’t become in danger of extinction.
  • Zoos help to take care of animals who may become sick.  In the wild, these sick animals may die.
  • Because of pollution and deforestation, animals are having a hard time finding food.  Animals in zoos are well fed and taken care of.

Someone who is against zoos may say:

  • Zoos don’t teach us much about animals because the animals there don’t act the way they would in the forest, jungle, or ocean, where they belong. We can learn more about animals by reading books or watching wildlife programs on TV.
  • Animals are not happy in zoos. They want to be free to walk, run, fly, climb, hunt, and have families. There simply isn’t enough room for them in the habitats that are created at the zoo. 
  • When a zoo doesn’t want an animal anymore, the animal gets killed or sold to another zoo and might have to travel far away by boat, truck, or plane.

After sharing these ideas, students were asked to reflect on a couple of questions, and as a part of our classroom blog, they shared their thoughts and debated their points with their peers. The questions were:

  1. What kinds of things do animals need to be happy? Do you think animals in zoos get all these things? Why or why not? 
  2. Think about the animals you’ve seen at the zoo. Do you think there is somewhere else they would rather be? Something else they would rather be doing? Why or why not?
  3. Do you support zoos? Why or why not?

There was a lot of healthy debate going back and forth as students justified their answers about whether or not they supported zoos. 

Not only might heading on these virtual field trips be a great way for students to see animals they may not have seen before, but it may also be a great start to conversations around the need for zoos and aquariums and the ethics behind them. 

Museums & Art

Art has always been of interest to me. From studying Art from a particular part of the world to understanding how art is connected to culture, so much can be said by looking at a painting or sculpture. Here are a few sites that I’ve explored with students:

  • Christi Belcourt – Christi Belcourt is a Métis artist with a deep respect for Mother Earth, the traditions, and the knowledge of her people.  In addition to her paintings, she is known as an environmentalist and advocate for the lands, waters, and Indigenous peoples
  • Tomb of Menna – Located in Luxor, the tomb of Menna is known for the colorful and well-preserved paintings that adorn the chapel walls.
  • The Canadian Museum of History – The mandate of the museum is “to enhance Canadians’ knowledge, understanding and appreciation of events, experiences, people, and objects that reflect and have shaped Canada’s history and identity, and also to enhance their awareness of world history and cultures.”
  • The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology – Canada’s only museum dedicated exclusively to the study of ancient life.
  • The Aga Khan Museum – The Aga Khan Museum presents and collects art from historically significant Muslim civilizations as well as contemporary Muslim communities and diasporas around the world.

When exploring museums and art, I’ve asked students to reflect on pieces that stand out to them and to explain why they were of particular interest. I’ve also had students consider the elements of art – line, shape, texture, form, space, colour, and value – and how the artist used the elements to evoke particular emotions or feelings. I also tend to ask students if there is a particular style that they can attribute to the artists and consider learning more about their particular style. I’ve mentioned before that art is connected to culture. Perhaps posing a question such as, “Is art shaped by culture or is culture shaped by art?”, might spark meaningful conversations around the connection between the two.


Ok…zoos and aquariums fit under this category too. Here are a couple of virtual field trips that my students enjoyed related to physical and earth sciences. 

  • Slime in Space – This is a 15-minute virtual field trip to outer space to see how slime, and water, react in a microgravity environment.
  • Hawaii’s Volcanoes – Take a trip back in time to explore the land shaped by the world’s most active volcanoes.

Everyone loves slime. Ok…well…maybe not everyone. I’ll admit. I’m not a fan. When I stumbled upon the link to Slime in Space, it got me thinking about the time I had a student teach the class how to make slime. It was an opportunity to see the connection between procedural writing for a science experiment and an exercise in problem-solving when it didn’t quite work out.  It was an experiment based on the student’s interest and it was amazing to watch them lead their peers with great enthusiasm. When thinking about student interest, last year I had a student who was so fascinated by natural disasters and when it came to exploring Hawaii’s volcanoes, he was all in. This interactive adventure allowed him to learn more about volcanoes and understand how the land was formed in a way that was more real than reading it in a book. How else might we bring student interest into the classroom through these virtual opportunities?  

The world is changing and it seems as though virtual field trips are a way to still connect us to the greater world around us. By no means is this an extensive list of what is out there in terms of virtual field trips. Hopefully, this gives you some ideas of how they can be used in the classrooms with students. Have other ideas to share? Please feel free to add them in the comments below!

Experiential Learning

I’ve recently been working with educators around Experiential Learning. I’ve always thought of it to be a hands-on or immersive experience for students but as I dig into it a little further, I’m realizing that it’s much more. I’ve been taking a closer look at the Ministry of Education’s Community Connected Experiential Learning resource and it’s been eye opening. This document was written after the Ministry’s Achieving Excellence: A Renewed Vision for Education in Ontario. In it, a variety of themes emerged; one being “to foster student engagement and achievement by creating more relevant, applied and innovative learning experiences that spark students’ curiosity and inspire them to follow their passions” (p. 4). That’s what learning should be all about! Sparking curiosity and allowing students to identify and follow their passions. It’s when students see relevance and meaning in the learning, that they get excited and motivated to actively engage and consider appropriate life applications

The document breaks down the Experiential Learning Cycle into 3 parts: Participate, Reflect and Apply. It’s really about sharing the What, So What and Now What.


The document describes this phase as, “Students are immersed in an experience, acknowledging what they are doing, what they are thinking, Andrew’s was what they are feeling during the experience.” (pg. 9). So from the beginning, I think that the experience should be one in which students are consulted so that they have voice and choice in the planning of the experience itself. Not only should they be participants, but they also have the opportunity to think about what they are doing, thinking and feeling during the experience. I think this can be done in a variety of ways. Having students utilize a type of field guide as they work or perhaps having them create some quick videos about their learning while in the process of participating in the experience. The goal is to have the student as an “active participant in the experience, not merely an observer of it”. (pg. 8). Are these concepts on our radar when planning field trips or experiential opportunities for our students? Do we take the time to consider the value in the learning from their perspective? Is that truly what the experience is all about or is it based on an opportunity that comes up for us?

So What

In this phase, “Students think about their experience, guided by reflective questions and prompts, and identify what they learned as a result of the experience – about themselves, other people, the world, their opportunities, or the subject of study.” (pg. 10). This is bigger than just thinking about the field trip that they went on and whether or not they liked it. The goal of the reflection is truly to answer the question of so what. Some questions that come to mind for the educator are:

  • Now that we’ve had this experience, so what?
  • What have we learned? What makes the experience meaningful?
  • What skills might we have attained or used during this time?
  • Why might they be important to us?
  • It’s much more than a summary of the event. In what ways are students being guided to reflect after attending a field trip or experience?
  • What open questions might support a deepening of their reflection?

Going a little further, here are a few reflective questions that I thought could be posed to students:

  1. What skills did you use in order to achieve success today?
  2. Describe another instance in which you used the same skills in order to be successful.
  3. Now that you’ve had the opportunity to participate in this experience, how might this impact your own life and some of the decisions you make?

Now What

Lastly, this phase is described as, “Students describe how their learning stimulates further inquiry; how it has influenced – or may influence – their decisions, opinions, goals, and plans; and what they might do differently if they have a similar experience in future.” (pg. 10). Now that they have experienced and reflected, now what? Will there be any transformation in the student’s life? How does this experience impact the choices they’ll make in the future in relation to this experience and others? Experiential learning is about driving action for our students and getting them to think about what will be different. They’ve had a spark, scratched the surface, the wheels are in motion, and hopefully they have connected with their passion. How will they use this to impact the world in a positive way? How will this help them to see themselves as change agents or individuals who can have an impact?

Taking all this into consideration, my reflection on what I thought were experiential opportunities for students now prove to be only the tip of the iceberg. There could have been so much more to the experience that would have made the learning more in depth. I would offer that if the experiences we are providing for students are called “experiential”, we need to ensure that they are meeting the criteria outlined here. Otherwise, I would have to say that they are field trips, which – don’t get me wrong – provide value but are not experiential learning opportunities.

Although I’ve asked a lot of questions so far, you know that most often I ask a question or two to close my posts. Here are a few that I’ll ask in hopes of starting a conversation:

  1. How do we deepen learning experiences to make them truly experiential?
  2. In what ways are we ensuring that we are allowing students to get that spark and connect to their passions?

There are some really great examples of experiential learning in the resource. Take a look and I would also love to hear what you’re doing in your classrooms and schools!

Our First Field Trip Into The Community!!

This is my first year being a teacher of students with developmental delays. Being new to the role, some days are very successful and some days are a definite work in progress. Even with the possibly of bumpy days, I decided that my lack of experience was not going to stop me from setting up activities in the community with my students. After getting advice from some other amazing teachers, I set up my first field trip. We went on the city bus to the Dollar Store to buy holiday decorations for our class!!

The Dollar Store is about a 6 minute bus ride from my school and it took us about of 20 minutes in the store to purchase all of our items. However, I planned for this trip like we were doing a backpacking trip across Europe for 45 days.

I began by preparing my students for the trip by explicitly explaining what would happen on the trip and my  expectations of their behaviour. I shared many pictures and explained them every day for a week. Here are a few of the pictures that I shared with my students:

SPD trip

I will be leaving school after lunch. I need to use the bathroom before I leave.


mccrimmon middle school

Then we will walk to the bus stop and wait for the bus.

bus stop

I need to stay with the teachers while we are on our trip and listen to their instructions.


I need to stay with my teachers on the sidewalk while we walk to the Dollar Store.

walking to dollarstore 2

When we get to the Dollar Store Ms. Axt will give me my money.

dollar store

At the Dollar Store, we will each pick one decoration for the class.

shopping isle

Then we will go to the cash register to pay.


After we reviewed the pictures with the students, we practiced walking around the school like we were out in the community. My team and I had a meeting and made groups according to speed, personality and need. Each staff member took two or three students and walked in the halls at school the week before the trip.

We also practiced expectations of shopping in a store. The staff and I became the cashiers and my students practiced finding something, bringing it into the checkout line and waiting to pay for their item. The more we practiced the more independent they got.

Finally, the day arrived and off we went. The whole trip lasted about an hour and we didn’t have one issue. Preparing the students beforehand went a long way into making the trip successful.

The day after our trip,  I showed all the students the pictures from our outing and asked about their experience. I put a few pictures and their thoughts in a little note and sent it home in their communication book. For many of my students, the pictures help them with their ability to explain what happened on the trip. It also gives parents some ideas about what happened on the trip, if their child has impaired verbal skills. The note I sent home looked like this…

note home

It took about 10 minutes to make and the parents really appreciated the communication.

We are off on our next field trip on Monday. Wish us luck…………

David Suzuki’s message to us all

Today the grade seven and eights at our school were invited to attend the Eco Summit at Mohawk College. It was an exciting opportunity where we got to listen to motivated students from around Hamilton speak about the change they were making in their school community and beyond. Local poets, musicians and activists spoke as well about the changes we could be making and how the earth desperately needs our help.

I knew I had to prepare my students for in their mind what could have been a boring day listening to speakers. I needed to create an interest in them before they sat down in Mohawk’s auditorium. I shared with them a BBC article I had recently read about the key things we can do to keep the earth’s temperature from rising beyond what it can handle. I shared with them how we need to cut down and eliminate certain things or places such as Portugal (as I felt this summer) will be uninhabitable very soon.

I soon saw that this trip was a bit mature for some of our younger grade sevens and even for some of our eights. They did not quite have in them the interest in climate change. Only a few of our eights were brave enough to ask the student guest speakers some questions such as: how did you get your teachers or people in general to pay attention to your causes? How can we make a change? What is the most important issue facing us at the moment? Etc.

I did however find a few key takeaways in the main keynote address of the day. We were VERY fortunate to hear from David Suzuki via video conference. I wrote some notes regarding his message to our group today. Here are the main points:

  • we need to radically reduce our use of fossil fuels
  • we should research and read more about the blue dot agenda and we can do so by going onto
    • once there, you can click take action
  • we can learn more by reading about the David Suzuki foundation
  • we can email the MP in our area and ask them to sign the MP pledge for environmental rights
  • anyone 18 or older needs to vote in the upcoming federal election for the most environmentally conscious leader
  • fight for the IPCC recommendation
  • it is important that we as educators offer solutions to our children without scaring them about the future
  • shift to what is called a biocentric view rather than what our world currently has, the human centric view
    • we need to see us a part of a web of living things
  • our students are the heroes of the future


That last point really stuck with me. Sure they may have been zoning off during David Suzuki’s talk or not listening to the inspirational music videos, but we cannot give up hope on our heroes of the future. Even if just a few of them take a stand, we can hope that they will be the change we need to see in this world. I encourage everyone to try to do some of the points as listed above. Also, a great read is this BBC article that challenges us to start making changes as well:
Also, here is an amazing message to get a conversation started with your class about doing their part to make the world a more liveable place

Unless someone like you cares a whole lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s NOT. -Dr Seuss

Mud Lake in June

Now that the weather is nice, and the water has receded from the spring flood, we have been able to take groups of 5 kindergarten students to the forest behind our school every day for about an hour. It’s a wonderful way to start the day, especially when the temperature is hovering around 24 degrees Celsius.

I told the Dragonfly group it was their turn today. They checked that they had proper footwear (usually rubber boots, but if it’s dry, we make sure they have running shoes rather than sandals at this time of year, because there is poison ivy along the trails). After a quick visit to the bathroom, they were ready to leave. As we left the school yard, I let them run across the field behind the school and wait for me up ahead at the soccer goal posts. That way, they got some energy used up so that they wouldn’t feel like bolting along the trails in the forest.

Before we entered the gate to the forest from the bike path, I got them to prepare themselves as Nature Detectives, making sure their eyes, ears and noses were switched on. (I like the way a colleague of mine tells her students to use their ‘Rabbit Ears” and “Deer Eyes” when they are outdoors observing). Touching and tasting are not permitted in the forest, which is a nationally protected bird sanctuary, although not picking up sticks is really hard for some students. Generally, if it doesn’t change the landscape, a twig or leaf occasionally may get moved from one place to the other by some students but they know to leave empty handed, because we are “observers not disturbers” in the forest.

Due to the prevalence of the poison ivy, plant identification is really important so that the students are aware but not afraid to venture into the forest. “Leaves of three – let them be” is the helpful rhyme which many have used to stay clear of the nasty effects this noxious weed can produce (not a sting, more like a blistering burn which can last days and be serious enough to require hospitalization for those who are particularly sensitive to the toxic oil). Once informed however, students can make better choices about how they access a forested or natural environment, rather than simply avoiding it. So lately, my groups have been learning about different 3-leaved plants which are commonly found along trails – poison ivy, wild strawberry and purple clover. This is what our kindergarten students noticed;

Poison Ivy

Toxicodendron radicans

poison ivy

Wild Strawberry

Fragaria vesca

 wild strawberry

Purple Clover

(also called Red Clover)

Trifolium pratense

purple clover


  • 3 leaves
  • shiny
  • pointy
  • 3 leaves
  • ‘teeth’ around each leaf
  • pointy
  • 3 leaves
  • white smudge in middle of leaf
  • rounded, not pointy


  • low to the ground at the side of a trail
  • NOT a bush or a tree
  • same
  • same



  • Bunches of tiny white flowers (too many to count)

How to Identify Poison Ivy

  • A few white flowers (you can count them, i.e., not too many on a plant blooming at the same time)
  • Single purple flower “like a ball” rising above the plant


Can you touch it?





  • Food for birds and animals but NOT people
  • Food for people, birds and animals
  • Can eat the fruit
  • Food for people and animals
  • Can make tea with the leaves and flowers

As we walked along, someone would point to a plant and ask, “Is this poison ivy?”, and other students would reply, “No. It’s too tall,” “There are too many leaves,” or, “Yep. The leaves are shiny.” Now, apart from helping them to respect the ‘do not touch’ rule, students have started to look for different characteristics on plants, understanding that the forest is more than just a mess of green, and that each plant has a name and a special role to play.


Express lane to learning

Recently, I was out shopping, and came upon something that’s not usually found for sale on the shelves at local grocers. Insight.

Funnily enough, it was probably there all along. I must have blown past a bunch of times while buzzing about my mental list of must buys. But this time, finding insight was meant to be. I’ll explain in 10 items or fewer. CC by 2.0 CC by 2.0

Usually, upon walking into a store, I’m pre-occupied with my mental shopping list, figuring whether something is a good deal or not, and by getting out as quickly as possible. This requires the use of several life, mental Math, and critical literacy skills.

The act of shopping really requires planning and strategic thinking to figure out when a store will have the least amount of people as possible in it so that we may park, pickup a cart, procure, pay, and part. It is impossible to ignore the thought required for such seemingly innocuous trips that are made for our milk, bread, and eggs etc.

From now on, and armed with this understanding, I am going to use my trips to the store to seek out and share its valuable lessons. There’s knowledge to acquire about Math(Measurement or Number Sense), to Media Literacy(package design, use of space), and to the development of crucial future life/socialization skills in every aisle.

Consider the yogurt section for a moment; there’s something for everyone in that part of the dairy case. Where else could so many products co-exist so peacefully? In fact where else could such diversity exist(except Canada)? Here gluten free, lactose free, peanut free, Halal, Kosher, vegan, and meatatarian are available to all at the grocery store and share an inclusive space.

Then there’s the produce section.

While perusing here, I saw couples discussing, quite demonstratively, which bunch of Rapini to buy. Then I spied the apple aisle. There was a person who felt compelled to touch all of the apples in the case. I witnessed a grape thieve looking from side to side and then pop a few into her mouth. Here were real lessons on relationships, human behaviour, and decision making all before me waiting to be picked and extended into the classroom.

It’s like that in the classroom or a head of Iceberg(lettuce). Teachers work hard to make learning engaging, extendable, and relevant everyday.What most outsiders see is only the first leaf, layer or ply.*

Speaking of plies. I thought it would be fun for my students to calculate which toilet paper at the store was the better deal based on size and number of sheets per roll.

Talk about a real life problem. Initially, I went around snapping pictures of the different packages and their details to build the questions. The class discovered that there’s a lot going on that can confuse consumers. We came away wiser for the time knowing we wouldn’t get rolled over by the manufacturers next time. IMG_3962

Your turn

Have you ever considered or taken a class to the local grocer? What about a super-type store à la WalMart(wish I could still write Zeller’s here)?

Or how about a homework assignment to include children in the planning and shopping? Who knows it might become fun, or democratize the food choices in some households. It may even lead to conversational and debating skills.

There’s a line forming behind me. Happy shopping. Thank you for reading. Please share and take time to comment to keep the conversation going.

*You thought I’d say tip since iceberg was used, but no!

Walking in the Woods with Kinders

With our weekly walks in the woods, I’m trying to come to terms with having a planned lesson versus just letting my kindergarten students explore the space in their own way. On the one hand, presenting a challenge to them as we enter the forest is a good way to target curriculum expectations and to focus their attention on things they may not yet have the literacy for, i.e., certain kinds of plant characteristics, the change in seasons, or evidence of animals, even the habits of relatively common ones such as the beaver, woodpecker, or wood duck. On the other hand, it is so true that real learning can happen when the teacher steps out of the way. We often think we are doing our students a favour by helping them inch towards enlightenment with guided questions, but sometimes, it is much better to turn our voice off and turn up our listening skills to hear what is being said without interrupting. While our responsibility is to make sure everyone is safe, we don’t always have to be in charge of learning – letting the students lead their learning is a rich experience we need to foster as much as possible, even if we feel to do so is not really teaching.

So, the obvious choice for me is to do a bit of both with some teacher-lead learning, followed by me following the students. With the hour that we spend in the forest each visit, we have a goal upon entering that helps remind the students that they are there to use their senses as ‘Nature Detectives”, after that, comes the free-association part of our forest ramble. As we start on our visit, I am ready with one teacher-lead activity that draws their attention to some new aspect of the forest that they might not have noticed before, such as, “Find a yellow flower,” or “How many different colours can you see in the forest?”. As we walk along and they point out the yellow flower, that gives me the opportunity to talk about the plant’s (goldenrod) properties, or when they notice different colours, it opens up the discussion about why leaves are not staying green any more. With the natural environment all around us at that time, it is amazing how much deeper students listen and how much more they remember. They are relaxed, it is calm, and there is just a small group of them, so learning comes a little easier because they are, in a sense, using all of their body to learn.

After a few minutes of teacher-lead learning, I am ready to follow their lead about which paths to trek down, or which fallen tree trunk to climb under or over. I look forward to hearing what they notice and listening to their talking. When we take the time to stop and just hang around in one spot for a bit, they are quiet at first, taking everything in. Some wander a bit and focus on the ground just at their feet, others crouch and look under branches. While it would make sense for me to point out the big things like the beaver lodge, or the dead birch tree full of holes made by various woodpeckers, the Kindergarten Nature Detective draws my attention to the smallest orange and black, fuzzy caterpillar on a leaf about 2 feet off the ground. Or crouching down, in a mess of mud and twigs, someone spies one red berry, or a toad stool the size of a fingernail. Our perspectives are completely different – I am taller, look farther into the distance, and know the space and what can be typically found there. With the 4 and 5 year olds, some of whom are very tiny, the forest they see is new and the area they are comfortable exploring is on the ground around their feet.

When we are walking back to the school, I try to recap some of the things we experienced so that they can write or draw it in their journals, share it with their classmates or talk about it with their families when they get home. Do they readily remember the yellow flower they learned about? Sometimes. But the student who found and gave a pat to the fuzzy orange and black caterpillar easily recalls every detail.

How to Get Outside

I know I have probably spoken about the wonderful connection my school has with a nearby bird sanctuary, but I thought it might be of use to other educators to know some of the administrative requirements that are in place that make it happen. Depending on the location of your school in relation to that of a nearby green space, it may be possible to establish the opportunity for your students to access a natural setting (a park, a watershed, a field) on a regular basis – without extra costs or volunteers to organize. This is how teachers and students at my school have managed to be able to do just that.

Every Wednesday and Thursday, I take a groups of 5 kindergarten students out of the school yard, across a soccer field, over a bike path, and through a turnstile into a forest located at a large pond formed beside some rapids on the Ottawa River, not far from downtown Ottawa. It is called Mud Lake, and it is considered a “Provincially Significant Wetland and an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest by the government of Ontario.”

It is a very important destination for birders carrying all variety of cameras, and it boasts meandering walking paths in the summer and fall, and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails in the winter. Some winters have even seen a rink being flooded and cleared at one end. It is well used, but not overused or abused. The trails are clean and it is rare to find any garbage on a walk through the forest.

The kindergarten students are not the only lucky ones to be able to regularly go for a trek in the forest for an art lesson, some math, or science inquiry, this is what the entire school does each week. While having such a rich and diverse natural environment to explore may sound too good to be true, it is counterbalanced by the fact that the outdoor area on the school property is less than to be desired. In particular, the kinder yard is an inhospitable square of pavement surrounded by a chain-link fence, and offering absolutely no shade. The children wilt at their outdoor play on warm, sunny afternoons, so having the respite of a cool, verdant forest is extremely welcome.

To be able to take a small group of kindergarten students each time we visit, there are 2 important criteria that need to be fulfilled: firstly, the parents receive a year-long field trip permission form to sign on the first day of school. Secondly, the kinder educators maintain the student-to-adult ratio of 5:1, thus avoiding the necessity of requiring parent volunteers. This way, if we need to change the time of our visit for some reason, we can still go later on in the day because there is no one else to organize except ourselves.

On Wednesdays and Thursdays, while the rest of the class is engaged in outdoor learning, I go to the forest with a group of 5 kinders. I have 20 students who are divided into 4 groups and I take 2 groups each week. It would be great if we could manage more visits any time we wanted, but it is not entirely feasible within the framework of the kindergarten day or week to go more often. With the way we have it set up, each child gets to go every 2 weeks. They still always get their outdoor learning time each day, which may or may not be limited to the kinder yard, so the wait is not so long that they feel hard done by. After school hours, many of the students have started to visit the forest with their families, too, which may account for the clean and healthy condition of the trails and surrounding area.

Every school culture and location is different, of course. You may not have access to a large, safe, natural area to adopt as an extension of your class or your school’s learning environment, but if you do find somewhere to explore, hopefully 2 legal hurdles – the year-long field trip permission form and the student-to-adult ratio requirement – won’t prevent you from making it happen.

Spring cleaning

Spring Cleaning CC BY-SA 3.0 NY
Spring Cleaning CC BY-SA 3.0 NY

Aaaaah, fresh air! It’s like the earth turned on an air purifier and sun lamp to awaken us from our annual hibernation. There is excitement all around and almost everyone at my school seems to have a bounce in their steps. This is probably because we are not getting weighed down by clunky boots, toques, scarves, mittens, snow pants, and parkas.

Spring has arrived, and the classroom has come alive again.

Is there anything like a fresh breath of air that comes with Spring? From our class window we watched a stubborn, dirt-laden snow pile melt into oblivion. We beat you this year Winter! And now we wait for the field to dry so we can, once again, run free over our own school savanna without fear of a mud bath.

Now that it’s official, it means there are a little more 9 weeks of school left for 2015-16. Thoughts of changing classrooms, grade assignments, or moving to a new school are popping up like the buds on a tree and returning Canada Geese. And then it hits – the sudden realization that reports cards are due in 7 weeks…or less.

This post is not intended to scare you, but to encourage you through what are some of the most incredible chances to teach, learn, and grow your classroom community. Have you taken advantage of planning some lessons that include the great outdoors?

One of my favourites is called Survivor – School Perimeter. In this lesson teams of students must complete Math challenges for a chance to win the choice of measurement tool they’ll use to find the perimeter of our building. Tools range from a broom handle, ruler, metre stick, rope, and Popsicle sticks. Students get to enjoy the time outside while sharpen their measurement and team skills in a large scale task. The activity culminates with students drawing scale diagrams of the school based on their measurements.

photo by Nero K. used with permission
photo by Nero K. used with permission

The great weather has also lead to community service projects. Last week our school celebrated Earth Week and spread out through our neighbourhood collecting trash from the lawns, sidewalks and side streets. Students were given gloves, a few trash bags and a half hour to tidy one block of our subdivision in Markham. This activity promoted civic pride, community outreach, and good environmental stewardship. Students could see the visible difference of their collective efforts and felt a sense of ownership and pride by their actions.

So with the weather warming, and the instructional days flying by faster than geese with jet packs heading north it’s time to get outside, take a deep breath, and enjoy some incredible outdoor learning opportunities. Thank you.

By Muffet -, CC BY 2.0,
By Muffet –, CC BY 2.0,

Do you have a favourite outdoor activity or go to lesson now that the weather has improved? Please share it in the comments section below and help keep the conversation going. See you out there.