This article was originally published in CREA’s Fall 2020 newsletter.
Wait, my child’s class is learning … outdoors? Yes! COVID 19 has inspired a wave of interest in outdoor learning, so CREA Educators Sarah Rodgers and Carey Truebe are in great demand by school districts this fall. They have been using nature as a classroom for years and know how to keep outdoor learning under control, productive, and highly engaging.
Some elementary teachers are nervous about taking students outside. There’s a big difference between a classroom contained by four walls and the ‘open air classroom’ – which some children might confuse with recess! But armed with information about what to expect and some management strategies, outdoor learning is healthy, engaging, and likely just what children need right now.
Sarah and Carey helped teachers get comfortable taking their classes outdoors this fall by sharing their tips and tricks with our partners at SAD75 and Brunswick School District (BSD). Tips addressed planning and prep, strategies for transitioning to outdoor spaces, establishing routines and expectations for the outdoor classroom, and wisdom on how to deal with common outdoor issues (e.g. spiders, ticks, distractions, sticks).
At BSD’s request, they made a training video for Brunswick’s elementary teachers, building on the written guidance, and are currently making training videos for the Maine Environmental Education Alliance which will share them across the state.
CREA was invited to review outdoor spaces at BSD’s elementary schools to identify educational opportunities. We partnered with BTLT to improve trails adjacent to the new Kate Furbish School and suggested ways to use the trails for learning. We continue to support teachers at on-site consults, answering questions and offering feedback.
Thanks to the efforts of our educators and many others, many elementary teachers are taking their classes outside this fall. For many years, CREA has believed in the power of nature-based learning. We hope this will mark the beginning of new and sustained interest in this stimulating approach to learning.