Outdoor Classroom Day cropped up in my Facebook feed last year and I excitedly asked our school principal to sign our school up to participate. The premise sounded awesome, spend a whole school day outside, then document and share your experience to promote the importance of outdoor play and outdoor encounters for children. Yay!
Learning from Last Time...
In 2017 I was enthused but woefully underprepared (no, falsely prepared). First, we took our chairs outside and the kids spent time sketching pictures of the forest and school buildings. This was reasonably successful and fun. Then we went out onto the playing fields and tried to do a WORDBUILDING activity using LITTLE BITS OF PAPER. To this day, I think to myself ‘whyyyyyyyyy? Why, Miss Muller, did you even vaguely consider that to be a sensible idea?’ Within minutes little bits of paper had blown everywhere and nobody, including myself, really understood why we were outside in the first place. Good going, Miss Muller. In hindsight the only viable interpretation of this mysterious choice was that at this point last year I was so unutterably freaked out by my student’s weak literacy skills that I couldn’t conceive of a day without a word-building activity or similar. But the truth is it was nonsense, and how thankful I am that you only have to be a first-year teacher once!
Outdoor Classroom Day 2018... what went down!
This year when Outdoor Classroom Day promotions started up, I was ready. We’d already had a spontaneous mud play session on the last day of Term 3, which was an eye-opening moment for me (and the kids!) I knew that this year I wanted to approach a day of being outside in a very different way. First of all, I wrote a letter to parents asking them to allow their kids to bring spare clothes in their bags on Outdoor Classroom Day. I also warned them that their kids might get messy and muddy (an expectation which they lived up to effortlessly)
The day did not run smoothly, it was boisterous and excessively noisy, I worried a lot about disturbing other classes and preventing total mayhem in the form of mud fights. I encountered discipline issues throughout the day, and I spent the last hour of the school day washing muddy feet and hands in a big bucket and mopping the bathroom floor which was a brown sludgy mess.
But despite all of this, IT WAS EXCELLENT FUN and I am excited to share some photographs and highlights from the day. Some parts went by so fast and needed such a high degree of teacher involvement that I didn’t manage to take photographs, but I still managed to capture some special moments. For the most part, I planned the day according to a few key topics that we’re looking at this term, which are all wonderfully cross-curricular – mapwork, spatial orientation and prepositions. We also started looking at comparing mass (heavy and light).
We started the day exploring the school with a picture map of the school grounds, teaching the kids how to orientate themselves according to a spatial diagram. ‘Let’s see if you can find the hall… the Grade 6 classroom… the basket ball court, etc’. This was in preparation for doing a ‘treasure hunt’ after break. Next we took our chairs outside and played a version of ‘Simon Says’ with a big emphasis on using prepositions (stand in front of your chair, hide behind your chair, walk around your chair, etc). I am excited to see how this embodied learning impacts their written work next week, as we continue exploring prepositions in their written stories.
After Simon Says, I invited the kids on a nature hunt, to find 4 objects which they could sketch and compare. Within minutes they had found some intriguing objects including long reed grass that they waved in the sky and giant leaves that one student wore as a sun shading hat! They document which objects were heavier and which were lighter, but they also just had fun hunting for objects and trying to classify them – is it a leaf, a fruit, a rock a wood?
Our next activity was a treasure hunt. While the children read indoors for a few minutes, I quickly hid the treasure I had bought for the kids (a balloon each and a small sweetie). They worked in groups and each group received a different set of written instructions, that they could read independently. As soon as they had read their instructions, each group raced out of class to find their treasure. By the time I had helped the last group orientate themselves, almost everyone was back in class blowing up balloons and chewing toffees. It was over in a flash, so I only got a photograph of the instructions and map I prepared for them.
After the treasure hunt we made out way to our (poorly neglected) vegetable garden in which one aubergine plant is bravely fruiting its first bounty. We happily observed and watered it and then proceeded to weed the rest of the garden, with the express motive of clearing space with which to play with mud. I poured water onto each clearing and the children busied themselves with the task of getting as muddy as possible. It was both delightful and stressful, as shrieks of delight were interspersed with shrieks of dismay as a few children played inconsiderately, splashing others and even smearing mud on other children’s clothes. Why? Aaaaaaah! In the end, a good dose of bucket washing and a very muddy bathroom floor gave way to relatively clean children, who went home smiling.
Find out more...
If you are a teacher and you haven’t heard of Outdoor Classroom Day, here is their website! If you have heard about it and are on the fence, I encourage you to give it a go, even by doing some practice rounds and trying short activities outside throughout the year before building up to a whole day. And for more inspiration about the potential of outdoor learning, read about the amazing development of ‘Forest Schools’ in the UK and surrounds, where children’s entire learning experience takes place outdoors in rain or shine. In a world where so many children grow up an in urban jungle, inundated with a capitalist, consumerist agenda that promote screens, plastic and junk outdoor play is a quiet but radical reclamation of our human right to wonder, explore and commune with our natural environment.
Read more Snapshots of our day to day classroom antics, or explore my recent posts on education and teaching in South Africa.
A daunted but determined teacher irons out the creases of her brain.