What is an Outdoor Classroom?

What is an Outdoor Classroom?

          I feel that it is first important to understand what an outdoor classroom is before understanding what the benefits are, how to build and co-construct your own, and what areas of development it impacts.

Teachers, educators, parents/guardians traditionally see a classroom as a place where children learn everything that they need to know to development within the norms and be successful in all areas of life. The idea of an outdoor classroom is that this learning is now being received through play and exploration outdoors using the materials and natural resources available. It’s the belief that through play and exploration in an outdoor classroom that children learn everything that they would learn in a regular classroom but they would master these skills through their own interests and discoveries, which ultimately benefits the children more in the long run.

The following link below will connect you to a great video posted by the outdoor classroom project. This video discusses what an outdoor classroom is all about. It also demonstrates the importance of allowing children to be connected to nature and providing them the space and the time to really explore and discover the world around them. When space, time and materials are provided to children can then begin to enhance their full development in all areas. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNgq2WO3mgg

I recently discovered a really great article on Pinterest posted by community playthings titled “What is the Outdoor Classroom?” which helped me to understand this educational style better. http://www.communityplaythings.com/ resources /articles/2013/what-is-the-outdoor-classroom. The article express’s that “children should be able to move seamlessly between indoors and outdoors; their play and learning should be as easy in one place as the other” (Community playthings, 2014). They also outline that outdoor classrooms provide more time for the children to learn, allows large gross motor learning activities, freedom for children to play on their own, and creates an environment that engages the children at a deeper level.

Overall an Outdoor Classroom is a place of learning where children are free to explore and play in the world around them as they please, with the support of a caring and nurturing educator who is not too far behind them.

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Benefits & Importance of Outdoor Classrooms in Early Childhood

Benefits & Importance of Outdoor Classrooms in Early Childhood

Many people would say that playing outside, whether it’s recess or gym, is just for children to run off some energy before coming into the classroom to learn. Is this really the truth though? The belief and truth behind an outdoor classroom is that begin outdoors children can learn more effectively in ways where is strengthens all developmental domains of the entire child.

Outdoor classrooms during early childhood are vital and are very important because through play and exploration outdoors with the support of natural and loose materials that children’s physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and language development can be enhanced in a more natural and comforting way.

If you visit my Pinterest account http://www.pinterest.com/slwight03 you will see a few different boards that breaks down the different developmental domains. Within each board you will see how each domain is positively influenced during outdoor play, as well as some possible outdoor learning experiences you could provide the children to enhance each particular area of development. In addition to this you will also find a board that also includes blogs, pictures, articles, studies that prove why outdoor learning experience are so crucial and beneficial for young children.

One pin in particular will lead you to a study done on the impact of outdoor play on children. http://www.pinterest.com/pin/420875527651252965/ http://www.imaginationplayground.com/images/content/2 /9/2960/an-investigation-of-the-status-of-outdoor-play.pdf. This study expressed that “most parents and educators agree that outdoor play is a natural and critical part of a child’s healthy development. Through freely chosen outdoor play activities children learn some of the skills necessary for adult life, including social competence, problem solving, creative thinking, and safety skills (Miller, 1989; Rivkin, 1995, 2000; Moore & Wong, 1997). When playing outdoors, children grow emotionally and academically by developing an appreciation for the environment, participating in imaginative play, developing initiative, and acquiring an understanding of basic academic concepts such as investigating the property of objects and of how to use simple tools to accomplish a task (Kosanke & Warner, 1990; Guddemi & Eriksen, 1992; Singer & Singer, 2000). (Clements, 2004). “The study also conveys findings related to the frequent use of electronic diversions and discusses several suggestions for early childhood professionals, classroom teachers, and parents for fostering the child’s enjoyment for outdoor play” (Clements, 2004).

Another reason why outdoor classrooms are so effective is because they are very diverse. No matter the children’s background, religion, or interests etc. all children can be included in this type of play and exploration. For these reasons outdoor classrooms are also inclusive. It also provides learning experiences that can be altered to children with special needs or learning disabilities. I also believe that being outdoors also creates an environment where children feel more comfortable, where they can learn at their own speed and within their own interests. Through this type of learning all children can be involved and benefit developmental.

The great outdoors are not just for children to run off some energy before learning, being outdoor is the children’s true classroom. When children get outside they not only enjoy learning better but they are learning better!

All Developmental Domains Enhanced Through Outdoor Classroom Play

All developmental Domains Enhanced through Outdoor Classroom Play

          One of the great things that is involved with having an outdoor classroom is that the learning areas and developmental domains are all intertwined, where as in a classroom everything they are spilt up into different classes or subjects. In one learning experience in an outdoor classroom it can involve math, science, and creative arts, gross and fine motor, language, social and emotional etc.

Recently I have been collecting and organizing articles, blogs, pictures and different resources on Pinterest and dividing them into the different learning areas to better support individuals that are looking for ideas and resources about outdoor classrooms. I would encourage you to visit my Pinterest account at http://www.pinterest.com/slwight03/. Within each board you will find activities and resource that are specific to that learning area. For more information about a particular pin just click on the picture which will lead you to the original source. In addition to this you may also be interested in visiting my Twitter account where you will find other resources available about outdoor classrooms.

Whether it’s social, emotional, physical, language or cognitive it is certain that children involved in an outdoor classroom are exploring learning experiences that are enhancing and strengthening each domain. Our job as the children’s more knowledgeable other just need to provide them with the space, time, and materials needed to create these types of opportunities.

Natural Materials in an Outdoor Classroom

Natural Materials in an Outdoor Classroom

          Playing and exploring in an outdoor classroom there are going to be lots of natural materials involved. Whether it is water, sunshine, shadows, rain, mud, rocks, grass, sticks, leaves, snow, wood etc. it is all right in front of the children to explore.

Being in an outdoor classroom it is very similar is the Reggio Emilia early educational learning model. The Reggio Emilia approach believes that natural, loose parts materials are best to foster an enriched environment for children. Reggio also finds value in lighting, whether its light tables, huge windows for sunshine, and large amounts of time spent outside in the sunshine or in the shade of a tree close by.

Natural materials allows children to use them as they please and to discover new knowledge through play and their own direction. A lot of the time natural materials can also fall under the category of being a loose part. The blog written by Playing Outside, describes a loose part as “materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. They are materials with no specific set of directions that can be used alone or combined with other materials” (Playing Outside, 2010). http://www. letthechildrenplay.net/2010/01/how-children-use-outdoor-play-spaces.html.

Natural and loose part materials are not just all about fun. I believe that they provide a better environment to encourage a different and more enriched type of learning. While exploring Twitter recently I discovered a post written by Kate Pickle, which led me to her blog about their natural/loose part learning experience with play-dough. http://www.kidspot.com.au/play-doh-and-natural-materials/. Within this post it talks about the learning that took place in such a simple experience. I believe that this experience could have been strengthened even more by providing the opportunity to use real clay rather than play-dough, but she described that the children explored patterning, shapes and imprints, as well as gardens and more.

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Natural and loose materials are great, and key to a great outdoor classroom because these types of items can be used anyway children choose, can be adapted and manipulated in many ways, they encourage creativity and imagination, as well as develop more skill and competence than most modern plastic toys, but can be used in combination with other materials to support imagination, which encourages open ended learning overall, says Playing Outside. http://www.letthechildrenplay.net/2010 /01/how-children-use-outdoor-play-spaces.html http://www.racheous.com/kids-activities/reggio-loose-parts/. Natural and loose part materials are not only key to developing a great outdoor classroom, but ultimately will benefit the children more.

Creative Arts in an Outdoor Classroom – An Andy Goldsworthy Inspiration

Creative Arts in an Outdoor Classroom – An Andy Goldsworthy Inspiration 

Being outdoors and finding beauty go perfectly together like nothing before. From flowers, to sunsets and sunrises, to waterfalls, ice, colourful leaves, snow and much more are the wonderful things that the great outdoors provides on a daily basis, but one just has to go and discover them.

I can confidently say that Andy Goldsworthy would agree with me when I say that bringing the arts outdoors and creating art work outdoors is something that every child has a right too during their childhood. Natural and loose part materials are also the perfect items to use when creating art. It creates a learning opportunity that encourages imagination, creativity, and problem-solving skills etc., and allows children to have unlimited choice as to what they would like to creates. Involving natural materials in art also provide the chance for children to not always focus on the end product, but rather the process instead. Whether it is exploring the properties and elements of mud, water, sticks etc., the children can use their time to fully understand these items rather than having to follow step by step instructions in order to develop the same themed craft that all their other peers are making during that same moment.

Andy Goldsworthy is one of the leading artists that uses natural materials to create piece of art in their own natural environments. I invite you to watch these videos that I found on Twitter to understand who Andy Goldsworthy is and the work that he does, and how his work can inspire young children’s art work in your outdoor classroom. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DjCMqtJr0Q  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kw0UG_VRUPM&app=desktop

When we keep Andy Goldsworthy’s style of art in mind when we are outdoors we can begin to use our outdoor classroom to its fullest. I would suggest that you introduce the idea of Andy Goldsworthy and his style of art to the picture first before heading outside. Show them pictures, videos, and books of some possibilities when working with natural materials. An adult by the name of Jeanette Nyberg posted a blog about Andy Goldsworthy and his work. She showed the children what his art was all about and when they visited a nearby stream a little while after the children were inspired. By providing the children with a provocation or an invitation and then stepping back to Observe, Wait and Listen (O.W.L) you can truly let the children lead the play from there. You can read more about this blog at http://tinyrottenpeanuts. com/kids-learn-installation-art-andy-goldsworthy/

Now that we understand how the creative arts can be brought outside and the benefits of allowing children the time and providing them with the appropriate materials and spaces, we can now have a more effective and complete outdoor classroom.

Movement in a Constructivist Classroom

blog 6          Currently most of my time and energy is put into being a student and all of the benefits and aspects that are involved with being enrolled as a full time student in Seneca College’s Bachelor of Child Developments program, in Ontario, Canada. Presently I am in the fifth semester out of an eight semester program that I am learning new things in every class.

         Recently one of the concepts that I learned about was the idea of a Constructivist Curriculum. What is a constructivist curriculum you may ask? Well to literally break down the word in order to understand its meaning, the word ‘construct’ refers to the meaning ‘to build’. Furthermore, this curriculum means to ‘build ones learning through the curriculum’. Christine Chaille, in her book Constructivism across the Curriculum in Early Childhood Classrooms: Big Ideas as Inspiration, states that “constructivism is a theory of learning that posits that children construct knowledge through interaction between their own ideas and experiences in the social and physical world. Children as they engage in interactions and experiment with their ideas, they develop new theories and ideas” to understand the world around them (Chaille, 2008).

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To fully and reliably follow a true constructivist curriculum one must understand and involve BIG IDEAS in their curriculum. First there are “three underlying concepts are important for understand big ideas: inspiration, connection, and observation” (Chaille, 2008). “Inspiration is what leads us to come up with new ideas and to open to what is already in front of us” (Chaille, 2008). The last remaining concept that underlies a big idea is observation. “Learning takes place when we see the relationships between the many different things that we experience and learn. This focus on connection means that, as teachers we need to think about the broader context of children’s experiences and the connections among and between what they do and what they learn” (Chaille, 2008). This is known as the second concept of connection. “Observation involves participation and reflection, and puts the spotlight on your role in the process of creating the constructivist curriculum” (Chaille, 2008).

Recently well exploring children’s activities on Pinterest I came across Darla Myers’ (http://www.pinterest.com/pin/ 420875527648761196/) pin, which was about super-sized marble painting. From there her pin led me to a great blog published by Pre K and K Sharing (http://prekandksharing. blogspot.ca/2012/08/supersizedlearning.html?showComment=1346338471587).

My goal is to provide you with an example of a constructivist curriculum that was inspired by Pre K and K Sharing’s blog. In this case we are going to say that the children were exploring and investigating the big idea of movement. As well as their classroom’s experience connected to learning expectations from the Full Day Kindergarten Document (FDKD) and the Best Start Expert Panel on Early Learning (ELECT), related learning areas and big ideas, and additional experiences and activities that could be done to sustain and extend their play.

Inspiration:

blog 4          Like discussed above, in order for this experience to become a true constructivist curriculum we need an inspiration. Now, you must know that there are a few different ways of an inspiration. First there is the ‘inspiration’, and this could come from the children and something that they inspire to explore after seeing, hear or experiencing something. In Pre K and K Sharing’s classroom this could have come from the children after they had made a smaller scale of marble painting, maybe they saw the product that a sibling made, or saw it in a book that you read to them about movement. The second is a ‘provocation’. The children’s learning experience could have sparked through a provocation such as the teacher or educator being in a marble painting that their child made or they made themselves. This provocation or sharing could be an inspiration for children to construct their own marble painting but on a larger scale, in order to increase the observations and experiments with movement. The third is an ‘invitation’, where the educator or teacher invites the children to see what materials and items they have brought in, and allow the children to direct their learning (play) from there.

Connection:

blog 3           As we have learned and spoken about above the next step to having a true constructivist classroom, that involves big ideas, such as movement like Pre K and K Sharing did, is the ‘connection’. Allowing the children to explore, experiment and investigate the materials and their environment around them provides a better opportunity for children to build new knowledge, well building off of their already mastered skills and knowledge from previous experiences. This constructivist curriculum also gives the children more freedom to explore the present experience, with others, within all learning areas, which ultimately sets the foundation for a better overall learning experience. In Pre K and K Sharing’s case, while the children were using the large scale ball painting materials to investigate the big idea of movement the children were also unknowingly well within all learning areas that are outlined in the FDKD and ELECT.  Social because the children had to work together to complete the task, emotional because they had to regulate their emotions in order to explore freely, physically because of the large materials and movements, language because the children had to communicate to be able to achieve the same goal, cognitively within mathematics, science and technology, and the arts. Not so sure…check out the visual mind map that I have created at http://prezi.com/cpc83ubnon7d/movement-mind-map/, which demonstrates the connections between learning areas, big ideas, other possible learning opportunities, and more.

Observation:

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         The last step and concept to include in this constructivist learning experience is the ‘observation’. To achieve the observation concept of a big idea within a constructivist curriculum, it needs to involve reflections from both the children and teachers on the experience. What went well? What did the children learn within the FDKD and ELECT? What did I learn? Where to go next? What to tell the parents/caregivers. These are all things that should be included in those reflections. After reflections are completed, discussed, and recorded, documentation then needs to be completed. Documentation is a display that one helps the children and yourself to recall, remember and reflect on what took place during those moments. It also helps parents/caregivers, other children, colleagues etc to experience what happened without being actually present. A very important aspect of documentation that cannot be missed is making the learning visible. Connecting the children’s learnt knowledge to learning expectations found in the FDKD and ELECT demonstrates to the children, parents/caregivers, and yourself, as well as others, what the child(ren) learned during the particular experience. Once the documentation is completed the question of ‘where to go next?’ may still need to be answered. Before you decide how to sustain and extend the children learning past this experience, consider what the children’s interests, strengths, and needs are. If you consider these three factors the direction that you guide the children next will be a strong result. 

blog 1           For more information and examples of how this concept of ‘observation’ could be done, please visit my visual movement mind map at http://prezi.com/cpc83ubnon7d/movement-mind-map/.

Overall using these different educational methods, concepts, and experiences a true constructivist curriculum and classroom will be achieved, and knowledge can then begin to be built together in any classroom.

Keep Changing the World One Child at a Time,

Sarah Wight

References Used

Best Start Expert Panel on Early Learning. (2007). A framework for Ontario early childhood settings. Toronto, ON: Ministry of Children and Youth Services

Chaille, C. (2008). Constructivism across the Curriculum in Early Childhood Classrooms: Big Ideas as Inspiration. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, INC.

Ministry of Education. (2010). The full-day early learning: Kindergarten Program. Toronto, ON: Queens Printer for Ontario.