Saturday, November 17, 2012
I am aware that outdoor education is a broad umbrella encompassing adventure camps, zip lines, nature trails, and simple outdoor gardening. All of this is wonderful stuff. My own children participated in Arlington's Outdoor Lab when they were in elementary school and they were always very energized by the experience. It led me to wonder why outdoor experiences were parceled out in such stingy servings.
Now outdoor education, or outdoor classrooms, are gaining popularity in preschool and childcare centers, and it is a real shot of energy to what otherwise has been a rather static approach to early education. Static, you say? Haven't we gone beyond coloring sheets and cookie-cutter art? (Well, some of us have.) Aren't we well into developmentally appropriate practice, NAEYC accreditation, Star rating systems, and other improvements that have made our profession a Profession and our centers and schools immensely beneficial to children? Emphatically, YES! But we continually move ahead.
I myself, as both a teacher-educator and teacher of young children, am struggling to catch up with all of the great information on outdoor learning for preschoolers. In the mean time, we provide opportunities that my children did not have in preschool (but that I had, without preschool!)--opportunities to be intimate with dirt and water, sand and grubs; opportunities to identify birds by their nests and calls, and opportunities to sit in cobbed playhouses with dirt floors playing bakery. At our center, aside from two sand areas we also have a dirt box and shovels that look like adult gardening shovels but sized for young children. Very young children make holes they are proud of, then stand in them to measure themselves against a playmate who is not standing in a hole. "Look! Now I'm shorter!" They switch places and exclaim, "And now I'm taller!" Other, older children, say they are digging dirt to make a road. They mix the dirt with water to "pave" the ground. Across the street is a huge construction project that they have visited on a field trip. They have seen paving in action. Integrated curriculum works outside, just as it does inside.
Here is a video about outdoor learning that will give you an overview of the idea of learning outdoors. For me, having learned and grown up outside until age six, this is a no-brainer.