Okay, so here’s a question for the grown-ups! How many of you remember (back in the good old school days!) just how you felt inside when the teacher told you the class was going to take place outside? Chances are that it turned out to be a breath of fresh air, both literally and metaphorically!
Well, Stockholm’s Macdonald School is working hard to advance the concept and utility of outdoor learning, as they continue to put together both plans and materials for their outdoor classrooms.
The goal is to have five “Outdoor Learning Spaces” developed and in full use by November 2016. These will comprise:-
- An Outdoor Learning Centre
- A Nature Learning Trail
- A Tepee and Learning Logs area
- Learning in the trees
- A Gazebo and Learning Gardens.
While each section will have its own special characteristics, common throughout the areas will be the built-in intent to create a space where learning is both fun and exciting.
Outdoor learning brings a whole different dynamic into the educational mix, it allows students to connect with the environment and with each other, it adds the fun and adventure of exploration, and creates visual and sensory stimulation that assists in opening young minds to the new ideas they are being taught. It’s a win-win situation, where education becomes even more refreshing for both teachers and students.
The main area will be at the back of the school, as seen in the artistic impression at the top of this article. The building will house learning materials such as:- paper, writing tools, blocks of wood, magnifying glasses, books, blankets, cushions, cross country skis, and snow shoes.
The building is already in place, as seen in the image to the left, and we also understand much of the material is already on site awaiting the spring weather for construction to continue. Brick seating (and movable seating) will allow for whole group assemblies, and also small group learning or instruction sessions. Once complete, it is anticipated that outdoor learning will take place in all seasons in this space.
Branching out from the centre will be the nature trail. Cut through a small wooded area, this trail will promote healthy exercise by providing a safe, supervised, and short five-minute walk through nature. Of course it will also bring the benefit of clearing the mind and easing any stress. Staff at the school look forward to residents of Stockholm enjoying this trail outside of school hours too.
The Tepee and Learning Logs area will be a location in which First Nations Elders and all students will build the tepee and learn about the rich First Nations cultures. Art/Learning Easels will be provided to enhance the opportunities for hands-on learning within both small and large instructional groups.
The Learning in the Trees concept involves the construction of octagonal seating around the trunks of existing trees on the school grounds. The intention is to make use of three trees at the front of the school, with the benefit of providing sheltered areas from the hot sun, or even light rain.
The gazebo and Learning Gardens will bring all the benefits of outdoor learning into one location, representing a clearly-defined outdoor learning space that brings shelter and utility together in a peaceful setting.
The learning gardens located around the gazebo will represent the sacredness of the number four in many indigenous cultures, (four colours representing the four races living in harmony, four sacred plants, the four winds, etc.) These gardens could also create representations of other nationalities from across our area too. For example, plants or vegetables could be grown in one section, and then harvested for use in the creation of ethnic food dishes that use those ingredients.
While final construction is still anticipated, students are already busy doing research for the interpretive signs that will adorn the areas.
It is an exciting, vibrant and forward-looking project that can benefit not only the students and staff, but also the residents of the village. We applaud the vision that created the endeavour, the financial support of the school’s 50th anniversary committee, and the continued efforts of the staff as the project moves forward.
Our thanks to Melissa Johanson, Student Support Teacher/Kindergarten Teacher, for taking time to enthusiastically tell us about the project, and for sharing the material upon which this article is based.