Friday, July 11, 2008

Creating the Outdoor Classroom

By our school, within our own school grounds, was an untended small woodland. Kids were not allowed to go there from the playground. If a ball mistakenly rolled in, an adult needed to supervise while the kids retrieved it. It was a scary place with beer cans, broken bottles, and other trash.

During a science class, I decided it would be a good idea for the kids to go into the forest to make observations about what was there. I thought, it's a real ecosystem! Instead of talking about it and reading about it, why not show them what was there? So we went into the forest that had been off limits. The students were to make a list in their journals about what they observed. The list did include trees, leaves, and squirrels, but sadly it included the unsightly traces of man.

Since that time, we adopted the little forest in our school grounds. With the help of the Boy Scouts, we made an outdoor classroom, cleaned up trash, and mulched paths. Classes go out there to write, observe, and conduct investigations. It's become a viable learning place. We've also noticed that the community is using it less and less for a trash pit. Our respect for this small but important ecosystem is starting to grow on others.

Today kids talk proudly of the times they've cleaned our forest. They get excited when they spot a new mushroom growing and want to take it's picture. They avidly seek out the dreys, squirrel's nests, that dot the canopy. Our outdoor classroom is a place the kids have built and it's a place for them to learn. It's a place to return, season after season, to witness the changes that take place. It's become quite an experiment in itself. I am exhilarated to see kids connecting to their place of learning and becoming the intrepid explorers they were meant to be.