Learning in the Great Outdoors

Dear Reader:

The title photo today is on the front of a canvas bag my neighbor Vickie gifted me for watching her cat, Fuzz, over the Easter holidays while visiting her granddaughter. Fuzz is quite a character and we always have fun together.

Vickie told me that as soon as she saw the bag she knew it was me all over….she was right. The words on the front of the bag reads: “Not All Classrooms Have Four Walls.” It has taken me awhile to learn this lesson…but now in my life (Part 2) since the construction of my garden in 2013, I have become exactly what I wanted to be – a lifetime learner!

I am happiest while working in the garden, even though my automated sprinkler is broken right now, and I have had to form a one woman water brigade (volunteer crew unit-me) from my outside spigots to the back and side gardens with two big plastic bottles! Good for the muscles and soul I suppose!

The garden has been my greatest teacher…teaching me science- when to plant what in which season, math- the number of days it will take seeds to appear or plants to bloom, literature- reading stories and books on the history of gardens and different foliage,etc.

Yet my greatest lessons have come in the form of learning patience, becoming a risk-taker, learning about recently discovered hybrids and new varieties of plants. Spiritually…my garden has provided a sanctuary for me to go and simply repose from the world…using all my God-given five senses.

So I was delighted when I discovered a novel movement in education- to use outdoor learning to re-open schools more safely during the pandemic! The National Covid-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative was joined by another co-founder, Green Schoolyards in America….with original sites in California…lead by Berkeley Hall of Science.

After much research they discovered that the risk of virus transmissions is roughly 20 times lower outdoors than in. Outdoor learning is critical to a student’s intellectual, physical, and mental well-being. Sunlight helps reduce the amount of viruses present.

Communities get involved to help build outdoor meeting spaces for students-besides providing funding for simple building material for pavilions used as shelters, tree stumps for seats, boat sails for shade, etc. This early initiative has concentrated on the elementary grades but is looking towards expanding to secondary levels.

The New York Times did a story on one site near Cape Cod watching first graders sit criss-cross applesauce on tree stumps while raising their hands “sky high” to answer a question. Third graders grow class gardens studying foods the explorers used…and fourth graders escape to shelter made from boat sails and learn how to erect them like in times of old.

Math centers use sticks, acorns, rocks, and pine cones to learn basic economics in money exchange. In social studies students compare their outside environment to the ones described in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. Literacy walks take place as students search for the pages of their assigned story tacked to different trees in the forest. First graders use this same idea for finding sight words.

The vast majority of students exposed to outdoor learning don’t want to return inside again…at least not wholly…many schools have worked up to a 75% amount of time outside while others use less depending on the location and environment. I think it might be a tough job, even when the pandemic has left, to corral children back inside…children and outdoor learning are natural partners!

So until tomorrow….Let’s all remain lifetime learners and let Mother Nature become our teacher again…like she was when we were children playing and learning in her “class.”

“Today is my favorite day” Winnie the Pooh

About Becky Dingle

I was born a Tarheel but ended up a Sandlapper. My grandparents were cotton farmers in Laurens, South Carolina and it was in my grandmother’s house that my love of storytelling began beside an old Franklin stove. When I graduated from Laurens High School, I attended Erskine College (Due West of what?) and would later get my Masters Degree in Education/Social Studies from Charleston Southern. I am presently an adjunct professor/clinical supervisor at CSU and have also taught at the College of Charleston. For 28 years I taught Social Studies through storytelling. My philosophy matched Rudyard Kipling’s quote: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Today I still spread this message through workshops and presentations throughout the state. The secret of success in teaching social studies is always in the story. I want to keep learning and being surprised by life…it is the greatest teacher. Like Kermit said, “When you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe you rot.”
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