Posts Tagged ‘taking kids outside’

Wisconsin Teacher Brings Forest Classroom to Public School

Forest classrooms are more common in Europe, but lately there have been several popping up around the United States. Generally speaking though, these have been preschools run by nature centers or private schools.

Yet one teacher did his research and proposed a forest kindergarten to his public school board…and was given the green light to start one. As far as we know, this is the first one we have heard of that has been created at the kindergarten level and in a public school setting and this is really exciting news. Hopefully, this means that the idea of forest classrooms is gaining ground in the education world in the U.S. Maybe we’ll even see the concept at the upper elementary or middle school level someday?

It’s something to hope for at any rate. Well done Mr. Dargatz, and we hope that your passion and the model class you’ve created will serve as a role model to others hoping to do the same. 🙂

 

Woodside Elementary teacher shows students what the outdoors can teach them

A Woodside Elementary School teacher is using his love of the outdoors to teach students with a unique education style.

Peter Dargatz is in his third year teaching nature kindergarten to students. They spend time every day outdoors learning about various things such as types of animals and the seasons. It is an adaptation of what’s called nature kindergarten, a curriculum popular on the east and west coasts of the United States and in Europe.

The definition of nature kindergarten came about due to misconceptions surrounding it and other similar programs called forest kindergarten and forest preschool.

“Forest kindergarten is technically pre-kindergarten age, 3- and 4-year-olds that are outside essentially all day. Nature kindergarten is actual kindergarten age, 5 turning 6, and it doesn’t have to be outside from the beginning to the end,” Dargatz explained.

The idea to implement a similar type of program in his classroom stemmed from what he observed in one of his kindergarten students.

Inspiration for the program

Two years ago, he noticed that one of his students was excelling academically. But when he shifted his classroom activities back to a traditional kindergarten setting for the last week of school, he noticed something wasn’t right.

“I noticed that she could not problem solve when she was with a peer. I noticed that her fine motor skills were lacking. I noticed that she didn’t know how to initiate play,” Dargatz said. “She didn’t know how to do these things. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I’m really focused on the wrong thing here. Like all my kids were doing awesome academically, but I’m not really preparing them for the next level. I’m not preparing the whole child.”

That, along with the birth of his first daughter, caused Dargatz to realize that he wouldn’t want his daughter in a classroom like his.

“I realized that I had to change things around,” Dargatz said.

Starting it up

That summer, Dargatz started doing research centered around the whole child approach. It also happened to be during that summer of 2014 that he started to volunteer on the Ice Age Trail, starting a “Tyke Hike” program.

It inspired him to try a similar program out in his classroom.

“My school has access to this beautiful parcel of land that nothing was going on in up to three years ago. It was just there,” Dargatz said,”We had just put in a garden five years ago, so I knew there was interest in outdoor learning opportunities.”

In August 2014, after several meetings with school and district administrators and studying Schlitz Audobon’s nature-based preschool, Dargatz was given the green light. He then built an approximately half-mile trail on the land with the help from his fellow Ice Age volunteers.

Side trails have also been created, and his students have helped restore the land by planting new trees and plants to replace invasive plants and grazing grass that took over the land, according to a member spotlight of Dargatz’s class on the North American Association for Environmental Education’s (NAAEE) website.

Program structure

Dargatz’s class spends some time outside every day. At the very least, students take a hike out to recess. Usually, they will complete at least one full lesson outside, with time built in for natural play. With nature days, the group reads a picture book on a topic building off the previous nature day. They then explore a part of the land in coordination with the day’s topic while finding new lessons.

Also part of the program is Dargatz’s emphasis on taking risks. He teaches basic lessons on boundaries, stick safety, spatial awareness, and the like. And although he is there to help students make safe choices, Dargatz said he is there to guide, not control, their decision-making.

“When given the chance and space to be independent in their decisions, they are motivated to safely learn, grow and achieve in our outdoor environment,” Dargatz said in the member spotlight.

Program growth, benefits

When the program started, Dargatz said, he learned a lot on the fly. It was just his classroom at first. Now, it is run in all five of the school’s kindergarten classrooms in some capacity and has a collaboration with the Retzer Nature Center in Waukesha. The school district is considering expanding the program into first grade. Parents, the school and community members have been very supportive of it, according to Dargatz.

Retzer Nature Center naturalist Larry Kascht has also noticed the program’s benefits, as well as with the partnership the center has with Dargatz’s class. The class alternates between visiting the center and hosting the center’s naturalists.

“It’s been a real fruitful partnership and a real fun model for all of us to pursue,” Kascht said.

Dargatz’s fellow kindergarten teacher Courtney Klein has seen the benefits of the program with her students as well. She noted that her students have become more independent, ask higher-level questions and think deeper on concepts.

“I think they’re more engaged because they want to be outside,” Klein said. “I think it’s natural for little kids to want to play, and I’m proud to be teaching in a district that appreciates that, that we’re not cutting recess minutes and getting rid of play time because it is so crucial to their development.”

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The Sense of Wonder: Going outdoors with kids

Introducing kids to nature at a young age can be a fantastic experience. It can also be beneficial for more than just your kids. Looking at the world around us through the eyes of a child can help us, as adults, rediscover the wonders of nature. If we take a page out of their book and just be present in the moment, use all of our senses, and enjoy the small things in the natural world, we can connect with both our children and nature on a whole new level.

Read this blog post by Super Nature Adventures and see how they were inspired to engage their “Sense of Wonder” by Rachel Carson’s book of the same name.

The Sense of Wonder: Going Outdoors with Kids

From Super Nature Adventures:

2017-05-07-07-07-03It used to be that whenever we went hiking as a family, we were all “Go Go Go”. Did having a kid stop us? No way! We’d strap him into a backpack carrier and head on our way no matter how long the trail.  We were those people who’d brag about how far our kid hiked with us. Four miles, six miles… “oh, he’s good,” we’d say!

Then…well, then he grew too big for us to carry him.

There was whining. There were fits. Sometimes he’d seem tired one moment and be running the next. Or he would do something that seemed designed to unnerve us. One time, he just took off running in the direction of the trailhead as fast as he could. Another time he sat down on the trail and wouldn’t budge.

A while back, we sent out a survey to families about hiking that revealed that the kinds of challenges we were having are pretty much the norm. Lots of you shared stories about your kid rebelling while on the trail. As many of you noted, even if you are committed to getting outdoors, when kids revolt, going hiking with them can feel like a really big slog.

So…What to do about it? 
One resource that has helped us is Rachel Carson’s book, The Sense of Wonder. Carson is someone who is known as one of the founders of the modern environmentalist movement. As such, she has spent much of her career devoted to forging closer connections between people and the outdoors. The Sense of Wonder is great because in that book she focuses on the importance of nature for kids.

Here are a few of our favorite tips from The Sense of Wonder:

  1. “A child’s world is free and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement.”  Kids see nature differently than adults. Often, our own sense of wonder has faded or even disappeared over the years. Carson argues that the one of the simplest things we can do to support kids is to rediscover our own sense of awe and share in their joy when they are excited about what they find out in nature.
  2. “Many children, perhaps because they themselves are small and closer to the ground than we, notice and delight in the small and inconspicuous.” While adults tend to be destination oriented, kids tend often get excited about the beauties in the world that we miss because, as Carson writes, “we look to hastily.”
  3. “It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.” Carson argues that kids must have a desire to learn first, and that our goals as parents should be to build that desire. Or to put in another way, early childhood is the time to “prepare the soil” for the “seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom.”
  4. “Exploring nature with your child is largely a matter of becoming receptive to what lies all around you. It is learning again to use your eyes, ears, nostrils and fingertips, opening up the disused channels of sensory impression.” We don’t need to be experts on nature to help our kids forge a closer connection to the outdoors. We do need to use our senses.
  5. Through these actions we can learn as much from our kids about the outdoors as they can learn from us. Children can help us strengthen our own sense of awe. For Carson, this is deeply significant. “Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life,” she writes. Through our sense of awe we find ourselves more connected to something beyond ourselves.

Carson’s advice has helped us to think about hiking from the kids’s perspective. We’ve put a lot of these ideas to work as we’ve been creating our monthly trail packets for Super Nature Adventures.  But you don’t have to only apply this advice to trails. Whether you are hiking with your child to a waterfall, or walking with them to the store, supporting a sense of wonder can help to deepen their connection to the outdoors.
~ Bryna

Must Reads for the Nature-Loving Parent

Being an avid reader, I’m always on the lookout for good books. However, I am also passionate about the outdoors (as should be obvious from reading this blog by now). So how to combine these two loves? How about reading great books about getting outside?

Spending more time outdoors has been a hot topic in recent years, especially when it comes to children. The term Richard Louv coined, “nature-deficit disorder,” has become common language in the outdoor education community. Research has backed him up. The increased amount our youth are spending indoors in front of screens is negatively impacting their physical and emotional health and well-being.

The solution, getting outside more, seems simple enough. Yet this can still seem like a daunting task to many parents and teachers looking to carve free time out of a packed schedule. So maybe we need a little help?

Fortunately for us, there are a ton of clever authors out there that have taken it upon themselves to tackle this issue. And one blogging mama has compiled 10 great books to start with.

You can even read them outside if you like. 🙂

Read her blog here.

nature-book-collage-web

Outdoor Classroom Day!

outdoor-classroom-day2

Have you ever heard of Outdoor Classroom Day?

We hadn’t until recently, but we’re glad this program is around. More and more programs are popping up to get classrooms outside, this one just happens to be global. An international day dedicated to outdoor classes. How cool is that? Plus, this day falls in autumn, a great time of year in Michigan to get outside.

From the Outdoor Classroom Day About page:

“Outdoor Classroom Day is a GLOBAL campaign to celebrate and inspire outdoor learning and play! Why? Simply because although teachers and parents know that spending time outdoors is important, sometimes it is squeezed out of the school day by all the other competing demands.

Anyone who has seen the effect of taking children outdoors to learn and play knows how powerful such experiences can be. Play is essential for children’s healthy development, which means it’s an essential part of every day. Learning outdoors, or ‘learning by doing,’ creates lasting memories, helps build a greater awareness of the environment, provides more opportunities to think independently, and gets children feeling challenged and excited by learning.”

outdoor-classroom-dayThe official Outdoor Classroom Day website has tons of resources, activities, and lesson plans to help you out. You can even get your school listed on a global map showing everyone who is participating.

Anyone can participate, formal school or not. So mark your calendars for Thursday, October 6 and get your kids outside!

Dirty Kid, Clean House

With all the emphasis being put on children spending time outdoors there’s one major deterrent that hasn’t been addressed: dirt.

Yes, this can be the downside to playing outside, your kids covered in mud, sand, or grass, and then tracking all of it though the house you just spent hours cleaning. We understand your aversion, but have no fear there is a way to have both. A win-win situation where your kids can have all the outdoor fun they want and you can keep the dirt outside. Let this educator and mother show you how in her blog article.

On Embracing Messy Play

By   August 23, 2016

tips to embrace messy play outside

Getting kids outside is a challenge! We live in a dynamic, fast-paced world driven by technology, and our children’s lives are more scheduled than ever. Much of this comes out of the necessity to accommodate demanding work schedules. The consequence is a significant decline in the amount children play, specifically outside.

Exposing children to nature-based play experiences is essential to providing a balanced childhood. It gives children an outlet and a space that isn’t driven by preconceived ideas. There are no solutions, no goals, no levels, only simple objects, and space. The space I refer to is both physical and mental. You don’t need a lot of physical space to provide for quality mental space.

The most common concern I hear about nature-based play is that it is dirty and messy. The beautiful thing about outdoor play is that you can clean it up with very little effort; in most cases, water is all you need.

How To Keep The Mess Outside

Here’s my action plan for quickly cleaning up five little people every day:

How To Set Up A Clean Up Bin Outdoors For Messy Play

Step One: Gather a couple of towels – one for the ground and one for the body.

Step Two: Set up a clean up medium size bin/bucket. My favourite bin in terms of durability, longevity, and versatility is a Rubbermaid Roughneck 10 gal bin. This bin will be the key to keeping the unwanted elements of outdoor play outside.

Step Three: Fill about halfway with warm water instead of using hose water.  When I fill my bin, I tend to fill it on the slightly hot side as it will be sitting for some time before I use it. If you have the ability to fill right before you need it, you only need to use warm water.

This strategy is particularly important for kids who are not enthusiastic about spending time outside.

Washing off with cold water does not leave a positive impression.

The last thing you want children to remember about their outdoor play is that they had to clean up in cold water; they will be less enthusiastic about engaging the next time around. Over time this will change, but at the beginning set yourself and them up for success.

Step Four: Wash! There are numerous strategies you can employ here. Get in the bin and wash or use a cup and stand beside it. I have also found that a watering can is quite effective for getting the dirt off legs.

Step Five: Once you’ve washed the dirt off, stand on a towel beside the door and dry off.

Final step: Use the remaining water to clean gear. There is nothing worse than going to put on a pair of shoes that are filled with sand or covered with mud. This step will also minimize the excessive dirt from entering your home.

Having a clean up bin serves a variety of purposes. It keeps the mess out of your house and sets a standard for reference. For those moments when someone says “My hands are dirty” or “I’m getting dirty” you can reassure them that they will be cleaned up at the end so they can enjoy their time.  I do not recommend getting in the habit of cleaning mid-session or regularly as it sets a difficult standard and distracts children from engaging in meaningful play experiences.

Our Attitude Towards Outdoor, Messy Play Matters

A note about our role in shaping their willingness to engage in meaningful and messy play:

As adults, our attitude towards their play experiences will help develop their comfort levels with it. If you have a particular attachment to certain clothing pieces, set your children up with some outdoor play clothes that you will not get upset if they get dirty. When children know that the clothing and shoes they are wearing are meant to be played in and get dirty, they will be more willing to engage in trying. This too is part of teaching children how to play outside.

Read, a naturopathic doctor’s perspective on why getting a little dirty is good for the immune system.

 Bio:

Tara Gratto, M.S.Ed, M.A., B.A., is the mother of two young children and experienced educator, both in the traditional classroom setting and in an outdoor education environment. Throughout her teaching career she focused on integrating experiential education into her classroom to enhance learning. Recently embarking on a new chapter, she opened EducatorMama, a nature and play based preschool and beyond. Part of the vision that guides EducatorMama is to provide children with meaningful opportunities to explore and engage with nature by spending more time outdoors.

Behold! The Power of the Mighty Stick!

By: Jennifer Hunnell, Michigan Arbor Day Alliance

 

You think that emphasis in the title is an exaggeration, but I assure you it’s not.

Just think about it. Is there any toy out there that inspires so much creativity and imagination than a simple stick? There’s a reason that young children often end up playing with the packaging of that expensive thing you bought them for their last birthday. Kids crave a world of their own. When they are out playing on their own, with no adult guidelines, they can create any scenario they want. Think back. Didn’t we do the same when at that age? Fabricate fictional worlds where we could do anything?

And what better tool to do that than with an unstructured piece of nature like a stick?

A stick can literally be ANYTHING. With no preconceived image of what it’s “supposed” to be, kids can use their imaginations to transform it into whatever they wish. You want to be back in Medieval times? How about a knight’s sword or a king’s scepter? You want to be a witch or wizard like in Harry Potter? Sticks make great wands and flying broomsticks. Large ones can be used to build forts, lean-to’s, and hideouts. Small ones can be used to create pieces of nature art or can be a handy writing tool in the dirt; did someone say mud paintbrush?

When unleashed, a child’s imagination can take them to incredible places. If we only let them have the freedom to do so.

Still aren’t convinced in the power of the stick? Then check out the video below which features wordsmith and Game of Thrones star Raleigh Ritchie. He wrote the poem in the video for the National Trust, promoting their “50 Things To Do Before You’re 11 3/4” activities. (Check out that program HERE. Keep in mind this is an organization in the UK, so some of the things on this list may not be familiar, but you can always add your own.)