July 16, 2020
Plato said, “Let a child’s education be a form of play.” This statement resonates with previous newsletter topics on Reggio Emilia and Loose Parts and especially with this week’s topic Outdoor Play, Outdoor Classrooms, and Challenging Behavior as presented by Eric Nelson and Lisa Agajanian. Before I watched their presentation, I googled the seven minute video The Outdoor Classroom Project. I was fascinated by what I saw. Children spending the entire day outside and initiating their own learning. I wanted to learn more to see how this can be accomplished.
Before I continue, I want to acknowledge the directors and teachers who are doing the best they can with what they have and what they know. My intent in these newsletters is to provide you with advances in the field of early education and increase your desire to take the leap and take those baby steps to benefit your children’s learning journey.
As I am sitting writing this newsletter, I am able to look outside and see the shells that I brought back from the beach (I know, I really need an intervention for my shell addiction) and I am looking at them through the eyes of a child. If I were outside what could I do with them?
Sort by size, shape, color
Stack them on top of each other
Color or paint them
Grab a tub, fill it with sand and bury them
Grab a tub, fill it with water and wash them, or wash them with the hose
See how fast they go down the slide
Make letters and numbers
Put them around the playground, make pretend that I am at the beach and collect them
Go back into my classroom and see if there are any books on shells and bring them outside so can see if I have any that are in the book
Draw pictures of the shells in the ocean
I could spend hours or even days with just this collection of shells. Imagine how I have focused on science, math, reading, and writing without even sitting at a table inside a classroom. I have filled my Freedom Cup and my Mastery Cup (think back to Sandi Phoenix) by myself. I knew that an adult was far enough away to let me be in control of my learning but close enough if I had questions or needed help.
Eric makes a point of saying that any amount of time outside is valuable, the more time you spend outside the more impact you will see. Challenging behaviors all but disappear because children are in charge of their learning. The child who can’t be still in the classroom has the freedom to move, the child who cannot focus in the classroom is engaged outside because he is in control of his learning. An unexpected outcome was that teachers said they were happier, more relaxed, and were truly enjoying their children.
Eric’s facility Child Educational Center is in California. Every classroom opens out into an immense play area that is shared by all children. Educators resistant to spending additional time outside tell him that the weather is almost always perfect there so of course they can be outside.
When I was teaching Pre K in New York we went out every day (unless there was a monsoon or the temperature was below 32 degrees). I had 38 children in my class and parents knew to provide the clothing needed for the day. My 3 and 4 year olds learned how to put on their own snowsuits, snow pants, jackets, gloves, hats, boots, and raincoats by themselves. Our hallway may have looked a mess with all the bags of clothing, and when visitors would come and tour the school (we were 3 year olds – 8th grade) they would be amazed that the children spent time outside in the winter. We spent so much time building forts, snowmen, slides, and splashing through puddles.
I have said it before, we are blessed to live in Florida. Yes, it does get unbearably hot – think outside the box (I know with the new CDC guidelines we all will have to).
Let each child have their own tub from the Dollar Store – fill it with water, provide items to play with (cups to pour, spoons to scoop, etc). Sure the children will get wet, but they will also dry quickly.
At many schools outside time is limited to 30 minutes due to small play spaces and the fact that many classrooms use the same space. One teacher was able to increase her outside time by 15 minutes by bringing snacks outside and when the children were hungry, they came and got their snack.
Another key aspect of Eric’s facility is that there is an “indoor/outdoor flow”. Children will naturally decide where they want to be and they have the option to go back and forth. The outdoors becomes a natural extension of the classroom. I know that this is the perfect setting, but is there a way to consider it at your site?
Take a walk everyday – perhaps twice a day, morning and afternoon.
One key idea that was presented over and over again was that the teacher’s primary role was to “observe” and not automatically react.
A constant fear is when children have sticks. We are so afraid that they are going to hurt someone with it. What if we front-load children with the safe way to use sticks and then let them explore with them? Give them the skills to allow them that freedom.
How about children climbing up the slide? Dr. Marianne Gibbs stated at one of our professional workshops that they are developing their gross motor skills when going up the slide. As the teacher, be near the slide in case they need you, but let them experience it. Personally, I loved climbing up the slide. Each day I would be able to go a bit further and was thrilled when I finally made it to the top!
Are you willing to begin this journey?
Are you willing to let your children have more time outside?
Are you willing to take the baby steps and start?
Please share with me your successes and yes, even your failures – but keep trying! I have an idea for one of my centers, and if it comes to fruition I will keep you informed of my journey.
Until next time, I wish you well.