photo by Sebastian Ganso CC0
photo by Sebastian Ganso CC0

It’s Spring. At least that’s what the calender and the weather are telling us. Dust has replaced the snow on the playground. Tell that to our playground grass fields still resisting the urge to grow too soon. Judging by the pale straw colour a field of green is still 6 weeks out. Somehow nature has equipped itself for a chilling frost or Spring blizzard that could be only a Colorado Low or Polar Vortex away.

Hopefully, March exits like a lamb and not like a lamb being chased by a lion. At this time of year, hope, like the temperature rises and with it the rain to wash away the remnants of Winter. Hope is the promise of Spring. Warm temps, more sunshine, daylight savings, chirping birds, sap running, and buds bursting on trees cannot be missed. There are great things waiting outside the doors of our classrooms. Teachers need to enjoy them. Our students need Spring and all of its promises even more.

To no one’s surprise since the Vernal Equinox, the classroom has become a livelier place each time the warm breezes blow. Students are absorbing the Vitamin D and converting it into boundless energy. It’s like an alarm goes off the moment the snow melts and the clocks move forward. March Break has come and gone and the realization that nearly 70 percent of the school year is in and out of the books. It’s as if that once the weight of snow suits and winter boots is shed, our students have been given permission to chirp, run, and burst with energy. It should not be missed.

With all of this vivacious vim and vigour I am planning ways to take advantage of outdoor learning, walkabouts, and a little more time in the fresh air. Along with this re-invigoration comes opportunity for distraction too. How we make use of our time outdoors can be a balancing act of classroom management amidst chaos. How we harness that natural energy with our students can lead to effective outdoor fun, positive mental health activities, and memorable learning opportunities.

What this looks like can depend on a number of factors: location, mobility, and volition. In my class we are taking advantage of the good weather by shifting some of our time outside. This is not limited to Physical Education either. Sure it’s fun to do, but there is also room for book talks, journal writing, guided reading/Math groups, and Science.

What I have enjoyed sharing with students on our walk and talkabouts are the changes going on all around us. It has been fun to ask them to comment on something they’ve noticed and to create a broader awareness of the habitats and spaces they occupy at school.

As we venture out, the eyes, ears, and lungs of learners are filled. It may appear that they’ve become distracted by it all, but it is not a distraction. It is more of an awakening of the senses instead and students are excited to discover it again for another year.

In my class, we are playing social games where everyone is involved. This includes our version of Manhunt; now known as Person hunt, SPUD, Chain Tag, Kickball, and Grounders. If possible I try to play in every game rather than watch because it engages students even more to see their teacher(as able) running, laughing, getting caught, and playing alongside.

You’ve read enough. Time to go outside and get distracted with your class. Happy Spring.

Please share how your class enjoys its outdoor time in the comments section below. Thank you for reading.

Here we go with the snow

Monday morning, we went to school in the first blizzard of the year. It was bitterly cold, and the wind howled around, blowing the 20 centimetres of snow into small drifts. Was there ever a question that our outdoor learning block at the beginning of the day would be cancelled? I am not comfortable just automatically calling for an indoor morning during inclement weather, and usually tend to have a Big Think if I do. So, making sure that all my students had the requisite cold weather clothing, we set out in the morning as usual.

In a previous post, I mentioned how baking hot the kindergarten playground is during the warm and sunny months, but I had no idea how miserable it could be in the cold. With the cold weather, it turns into a wind tunnel, creating a crusty surface of snow and ice. WIth the climbing structure now closed, there is little to do when the conditions are so unfavourable. The only shelter is a small plastic playhouse in a corner, and the rest of the area is open to the elements as the wind whips up the hill from the river and blasts the yard. If a student drops a mitten, it creates mayhem as they run squealing after it before it gets pinned by the wind to the chain link fence at the other side of the yard. Hilarious.

So, I admit that while I was hollering the students’ names into the wind in order to be heard while I took attendance, I began to have second thoughts about the idea of staying outside for the morning block. I am glad to say that we decided to stay outdoors, but not in the kindergarten yard which was so inhospitable. We decided, instead, to go on a walk in the snow around the school where we could at least get out of the wind and allow the students to have some fresh air and fun. Having taught in an Inuit community at the top of Hudson’s Bay, I remember recess time on the tundra where it was often cold and blustery and staying indoors was not an option. You dress for it, and without making a point of whatever opinion you may have of winter, you get out into it and enjoy yourself.

As we trudged through the drifts, I was so impressed with the children’s resilience in spite of the cold. There are some students who have never been through an Ottawa winter and who have to borrow warm clothing each day for our outdoor block, and yet, there they were, laughing as they would try to walk in the deep snow and fall into their friends, or as they made snow angels for the first time. We climbed the mountains of snow the plow had pushed to one end of the junior yard, then rolled down the hill at the back of the school into a field of fresh drifts.

It took us over half an hour to navigate the complete school yard and make it back to the fenced-in kindergarten yard. The wind was still howling and a couple of mittens had fallen off during the climbing adventures, so, looking at the rosy cheeks and running noses, my ECE partner and I started a slow filter indoors for any students who were ready for a change of environment. While most children filed into the classroom, a handful wanted to stay outside and asked me for the toboggans. Since we were all well-dressed and well-prepared to continue staying outdoors for a little while longer, the tobogganing was a bonus activity that saw the students continue to independently explore a host of different ways to slide down the hill. Reflecting on what the students were learning, I easily made anecdotal notes for all for the Four Frames, excepting LIteracy and Mathematics Behaviours. What’s more, the students looked out for one another before heading down the hill, patiently took turns, and helped each other up the hill if they struggled with their sled. They were a very happy crew, and when we made our way back to the classroom, although many of them would have preferred to stay outside a while longer, everyone brought their sled back to the shed and stacked it properly without a complaint.

When we got inside and they were peeling off crusty mittens and snowy boots, you could hear sighs of, “That was so much fun!” from the cubby room. It’s only the first snowfall, but I am really happy that it was a positive experience for all the students. I will remember that the next time we get walloped by winter weather.

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 - flickr.com, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16416451
By Muffet – flickr.com, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16416451

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.


Photo of Tina Ginglo

Bringing Personal Excitement and Passion to the Classroom-Outdoor Education

In the first chapter of The Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning, four themes of success were shared.  These themes were compiled from teachers’ stories about what contributes to their success in the classroom.  I had the opportunity to observe one of those themes, the passion for teaching, first hand when I watched my teacher candidate bring a plants and soils unit to life for my third grade students. Eve is passionate about environmental education, stewardship and education for sustainability.  I encouraged her to bring her excitement, background knowledge, and experiences into our classroom.  And did she ever!  It’s spring and Eve made sure to make the most of the mild March weather.   The days are longer, warmer and colour is starting to dot our landscapes.  It is a perfect time to get reacquainted with the outdoor classroom.  However, as Eve effectively demonstrated, outdoor classroom expectations must be established before learning can occur.  Eve reminded me of three important tips to consider before taking students outdoors to learn:

Tip #1- Establish classroom boundaries– Mark out the boundaries of your outdoor classroom with visible landmarks. For example, you might say, you are not to go beyond those three oak trees in the field and you must stay on this side of the soccer field.  Hold out your arm and trace the area of the outdoor classroom with your finger.  Make sure that your students are able to tell you what the outdoor classroom boundaries are before you start an activity.

Tip #2- Establish a meeting place where students know to return to when it is time to regroup.  Our students knew to meet in front of the playscape in our schoolyard.

Tip #3- Establish a signal for regrouping- Eve chose the signal, “chicadee-dee-dee.”  Students knew that when they heard the “chickadee-dee-dee” call, it was time to stop what they were doing and regroup at our predetermined meeting place.

There were many times during her four-week practicum when the students were a tad loud, silly, and full of energy.  At times like these some of us may decide to take away a planned outdoor activity as a consequence for unsettled behavior, but not Eve.  Committed to her beliefs about teaching and learning, Eve would argue that if students seem unsettled inside, it is the perfect time to continue the learning in our “outdoor classroom” and she was right!  Engagement rose to a new level each time we took the students outside to learn.  Some of these outdoor activities included making mud bricks out of soil, water and wood chips, measuring the diameter of tree trunks for the fabric tree banners students created to wrap around our school’s trees, and digging dirt to explore the different types of soil in our school yard.

Eve believes that, “We must show students not what they can take from the land, but what they can learn from it.”  I believe she did an extraordinary job establishing this enduring understanding in our class.

If you are interested in outdoor education and environmental education these resources may be of interest to you:

The link included below is an article that talks about how students’ capacity to learn increases when they are taken outside. This article notes how nature can help children pay attention, motivate them to learn and improve classroom behaviour and scores on standardized tests.

You may want to visit the website for The Council of Outdoor Educators of Ontario.  They are hosting a conference in September!

Ministry Resources-

Shaping Our Future, Shaping Our Schools:  Environmental Education in Ontario Schools