We at Kegonsa think about our surroundings as our third teacher. Our outdoor classroom is one of the areas that we consider as the third teacher. Outdoor classrooms provide many learning experiences and opportunities of growth. Areas of growth include social-emotional development, language development, creative expression, as well as fine and large motor development. Students develop an interest in science and math. The kindergarten students in the above left photo worked for days (persistence) to hollow out a log. They discussed diameter and measured their progress daily. The students in the upper right used a large tree cookie to make a table for their outdoor kitchen. Planting and watching our seedlings grow.
From our Educators:
The outdoor classroom is a critical piece of our play and inquiry based classrooms at the kindergarten and first grades at Kegonsa. The outdoors offers our students a different setting in which to learn and wonder and follow curiosities. The evolving seasons offer students the opportunity to explore the seasons and nature in small and big ways. While educators offer structured learning opportunities as students work to master a skill, there is plenty of unstructured time which gives students large movement breaks as well as time to naturally collaborate and problem solve with their peers in a natural setting.
-Erin Conrad, School Principal
Our outdoor classroom is a space where children can go with the freedom to be themselves. If they want to dig in the dirt for worms and bugs, they can. If they want to pretend to create and bake pies, they can. Their imaginations really come alive when they step outside the school building. I often allow students the opportunity to explore the area on their own and open their minds. Right now the outdoor classroom contains full grown trees, wood chips around several trees, and wood stumps. We sometimes take out a couple sensory tables as well. When I wrote the grant through the Healthy Classrooms Foundation I wanted to further our students' sense of wonder, academic growth and connection to their natural environment. After receiving the grant I had a meeting with the outdoor classroom committee at Kegonsa Elementary and we came up with a few amazing ideas. They include natural seating for an entire class with a demonstration stage, tables with stumps for outdoor work, plexiglass walls for painting and a sound wall. We are all extremely excited to begin adding to our outdoor classroom!
-Angel Schroeder, Kindergarten Teacher
The outdoors are the sparks for a child’s curiosity and where engagement is at its peak. Hundreds of questions are heard floating on the wind from all edges of the outdoor classroom. What is this insect? Is this growing on the tree? Teachers and students get to unite in this inquiry-based learning. Together we have to use books and resources to find the answers to our many questions. Being in the outdoor classroom with my students is an experience that is full of wonder, yet humbling at the same time. I do not have the answers to all of their questions and they see that learning is a lifelong journey. Our time spent in the outdoor classroom is usually the best part of our day. It’s a time when kids are allowed to be kids and learn in way that comes most naturally to them. It is organically differentiated and student choice is abundant.
-Patricia Wilton, 1st grade teacher
There is something to be said about teaching and learning outdoors. Education doesn’t have to take place inside. In fact, most students prefer to be in an outside environment. Earlier this year, we took a survey and 17/19 (89%) of our students said they would rather be outside than inside. Students and teachers both appreciate the fresh air, the calm breeze, the birds chirping, and the insects buzzing. When students are outside, they are able to ask questions based on their observations and interests. Some students are more interested in trees and grass than insects. Others are passionate about the weather. It’s rewarding to see the strengths of each individual student come out when they are outside. We have been able to use the outdoor classroom for multiple classroom activities, including Reader’s Theatre, Writer’s Workshop, Science Inquiry, and Community Building Activities.
-Jess Davis, 3rd Grade Teacher
I enjoy being outdoors during all the seasons and it is healthy for all. There is so much to explore and learn in nature. I have such a refreshed feeling after being outdoors. I wanted my students to have these same feelings about nature. I have also experienced more and more people spending time indoors, especially young children. I feel it is important for all people to get outside, so rather than spend the whole day inside the school building teaching, head outdoors. Studies have shown increased student enthusiasm for learning outdoors. Outdoor experiences help students increase their understanding of their natural and human communities which leads to a sense of place. Instead of talking to children or showing them pictures about something, let them experience it first hand. When we started going outside daily last year, I never realized or imagined what the children would find, explore and learn about right in our school yard. It is amazing!
-Joy Meyer, Kindergarten Teacher
We were following a map with a visual key. We found arctic animals at the end of our map. Tomorrow we will make our own maps."