During my most recent practicum, I was placed in a kindergarten classroom here in Kingston. Before I started, I emailed my associate teacher to introduce myself, and asked about whether I could take the class outdoors a few times during my lessons. I was surprised by the enthusiasm of her response. She asked if I would take it further and incorporate daily outdoor learning activities for the students, using the school grounds, and the local community. I was so excited (and a little nervous to be honest) to get started.
First, I thought about the spaces we’d have access to. The school had a soccer field, playground, tarmac, and flowerbed in front. The Lake Ontario shoreline was about a 5 minute walk away (10 on kindergarten legs) and there was also a public park a little further along. I brainstormed with my associate teacher about the activities that would engage the students, focussing on inquiry and exploration to align with the play-based kindergarten curriculum.
For example, we used birds as one inquiry topic. The students made and decorated ‘binoculars’ from toilet paper tubes, and we took out bird ID books, paper and pencils for drawing, and the iBird app (on my phone). We discussed that the best way to birdwatch is by using your ears, so we started the lesson by playing a short listening game to help the students focus in. After this, they had the freedom to explore and look/listen for birds. Some students drew pictures, some looked at the books or through their binoculars, others mimicked bird calls, or even built their own ‘nests’ using sticks they found. It was amazing to see the creativity and learning that emerged from the students.
Outdoor education does not just have to be learning about the birds, bugs, and plants though. We also took our math outdoors, playing in the sandbox to learn about capacity, and making chalk drawings to learn about area and length. We completed art projects and musical instruments inspired by found items in a local park. We imagined shapes in the clouds, and went on a story walk, where each page of our story was read in a different location. The most rewarding part was seeing the students connect to the world around them.
From this practicum experience, I would have two suggestions for other teacher candidates. First, take your class outside. You don’t need to know the names of the birds or trees to get started and it doesn’t have to be perfect, just get them out and get them exploring! There is so much research to back you up, from improving physical fitness, to increased focus and attention, to better mental health and well-being. You will also help students develop a relationship with the natural world, which can only be a positive in our current climate. Second, if you are passionate about something in education, speak up and suggest it to your associate teacher – they may surprise you.
(with grateful thanks to my Associate teacher, practicum class, and school for the opportunity and support).