We are now entering into the second school year of this pandemic, which has drastically changed the learning environment for teachers, students and parents. We all can agree that the amount of screen time our children and students are consuming is far more than the recommended amount by the Canadian Paediatric of Society. Prior to the pandemic less than one hour a day of screen time was recommended for children between the ages of 2 and 5 years old. And for children 6 and up the recommended screen time was less than 2 hours a day. Unfortunately, covid-19, lockdowns, and self-quarantine policies quickly shifted the learning landscape from in-person learning to a digital online platform for our students.
Despite the increase of use technology in the classroom and in the home, educators and parents like yourself took advantage of the opportunity to use the outdoor spaces as an extension to the classroom. There are many benefits in allowing your students to experience and engage with nature as a healing and teaching tool. This has been well documented.
Here are 5 ways educators can you to support the transition from summer break and incorporate outdoor experiential learning into the home or classroom.
1. Have open and consistent channels of communication by meeting the students and their parents where they are at.
The students we serve are diverse and experience different barriers. Therefore, the ways in which we engage and communicate with them and their families should reflect that. Advice educators have shared that has worked for their class are setting up introductory phone calls, zoom/google meet calls, google forms, in-person welcome meetings, or sending parents a short introductory video embedded in the email.
Benefit: Having clear channels of communication from the beginning of the year, helps establish stronger relationships as educators with parents and students. As communication and parental involvement increases, educators report higher grades, time management and social skills among their students increased, better attendance, active engagement, and less behaviour issues in the classroom. Educators and parents mutually learn and share perspectives on how to best support the student at school and in the home.
2. Find an outdoor green space nearby and treat it as an outdoor classroom.
This can be at a welcome circle on school grounds, a school garden or a nearby park. Carve out time in your classroom routine outside of recess to offer regular teachings in this space. Engage with natural materials around you to develop a closer relationship between land.
Benefit: In the 2000 Children and Nature Network study showed that receiving daily exposure to the outdoors increased the children’s ability to focus and concentrate better in the classroom. In a similar more recent 2008 study, children diagnosed with ADHD had a more positive learning experience learning outside in nature than in a traditional classroom setting.
[After participating our our Trees from Seed program, students were able to identify the Kentucky Coffee Tree and collect some seeds during their neighbourhood walk. This photo was taken prior to the pandemic]
3. Use the green space or the outdoor environment to help regulate emotions, anxieties and relieve stress.
This can be done by having meditation, reading, stretching, deep breathing, grounding and/or garden-related activities outdoors. 20 minutes daily on a patch of grass will change the tenor of your classroom.
Benefit: This gives a break from the static classroom setting to a more dynamic outdoor space. Educators have reported that outdoor and garden-related activities were capable of alleviating some of their student anxieties, help improve their focus and awareness, and cultivated emotional regulation and empathy. Plus, educators have also shared that they have been able to be more present in their work.
4. Safely explore and interact within their school garden, parks and nature.
Have students interact with the natural world, and learn how they are connected to the land, animals and indigenous plants. If your school has access to a garden or green space, connect your lessons about natural science, environmental education, food and nutrition, science and technology, math and social studies subjects to the land.
Partner with local organizations who focus on curriculum-linked outdoor education, environmental stewardship, nature and food literacy, mindfulness like Green Thumbs Growing Kids to extend your teachings.
Benefit: In nature, play and exploration is informal, unstructured, and innovative. There are countless ways to interact with the outdoor environment and allowing them to freely explore and engage with nature builds confidence, while fostering their creativity and imagination. When students connect with nature they learn about the web of life, their responsibility to care for nature and the living and non-living things among them.
[One of our students proudly shows her plant. Through our virtual program she learned how to grow her own food]
5. Dig, dig and dig some more.
Allow your students to feel the soil and engage their senses with the soil. What do your students hear? What is the texture of the soil? What does it feel like in between the fingers? What sounds do you hear? What does the smell of the soil remind you of? Or does it trigger any memories? What did you find in the soil?
Benefit: Allowing your students the opportunity to dig in the soil with your hands has shown to offer psychological benefits like relieving stress. The bacteria found in the soil called Mycobacterium Vaccae, helps increase serotonin in the prefrontal cortex, which regulates anxiety, combat stress and builds a strong immune system.
[School children digging and planting pole beans in their school garden bed. This image taken prior to the pandemic]
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