Embrace Outdoor Learning!

Eco-friendly Homeschooling Advice for Parents and Caregivers this Fall
Play based learning #2
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Schooling looks quite different this year. Some students will spend their days in a classroom while others will be homeschooled by their parent(s) or a caregiver.

With COVID-19 uncertainty still a reality, parents and caregivers have expressed degrees of concern about their children returning to school. With that said, there are many wonderful benefits for parents and caregivers who are homeschooling this Fall.

As a former school teacher, now an education professor and part-time homeschooler myself, I have experienced both ways of teaching and learning. Here are some helpful tips and advice for parents and caregivers as they organize learning at home.

Embrace the Outdoors

When I first arrived in Canada, I was told that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. I now believe it. Never make rainy days an excuse not to go outside and breathe fresh air. A study in 2016 evaluated the higher-order cognitive function (brain performance) of 24 people who spent six full workdays in a “Green” and a “Conventional” building. The Green building, representing the outdoors, had low concentrations of VOCs (volatile organic compounds). The conventional building had high concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are harmful and are representative of closed indoor environments. The results confirmed that cognitive scores were 61% higher on the Green building day and 101% higher on two-plus Green building days. These findings have wide-ranging implications for children learning in indoor environments, including indoor classrooms.

These results match research commissioned by the British Audio-Visual Society, which came up with figures about how much information learners retain. It looks like this: We learn 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we both see and hear, 70% of what is discussed with others, 80% of what we experience personally and 95% of what we teach someone else. This dates back to the old Chinese proverb: If you tell me, I will listen. If you show me, I will see. If you let me experience, I will learn. The lesson here is that learning and retention increases as the learner is more involved. Outdoor learning provides that involvement and experience.

Play based learning trees
Annie Spratt / Unsplash.com

Use Experiential learning

One outdoor experience I arrange with our children during the winter months when it snows is Snow Math, where the children go outside to do the math exercises.

I have set questions, a tape measure, a snow shovel and my camera. Here are some questions by me and comments made by the children:

  • “How deep is the snow?”
  • “I made a sphere.”
  • “How long will it take the snow to melt?”
  • “Can you make patterns?”
  •  “I made a snow cylinder.”

Sometimes this goes as planned and other times it does not, but no matter what, the children are fully involved and learning. My children never forget this outdoor experience, especially when it doesn’t go according to plan.

Engage in whole-body learning

Use a structured three-part format for organizing lessons. After you describe the topic, including the particular outcome or standard students will be working towards (more on this shortly), structure the lesson in the following way and in this order.

First, ask them to draw the topic under study. Next, have the child make it using materials such as blocks, playdough etc. Finally, ask them to symbolize it.

Let me clarify:

Suppose they are working on the theme of communities. You could ask the child to draw what they believe is a healthy community. Then, after you have talked about the drawing with them, ask them to design a building in a city that would help advance a healthy community. They can use anything you have for the design (clay, rocks and soil, etc.). They could plan a shared community play park on top of a building, a play park for both adults and children. Then finally, symbolize it - that is, they could compose a creative story (in their writing journals) about how they helped advance a thriving community in a new neighbourhood.

Play-based Learning

If you use a textbook, use it as an important resource. Textbooks are necessary, but they are not sufficient. If you are teaching a concept, playing a game together is enjoyable and more engaging for learning.

There are plenty of educational games that you can find online to purchase or draw ideas from while you plan the games yourself. After playing a game, ask your child to work on a page or two from the textbook related to the game’s concept.

For example, I often use a build a pizza game that is suited for 1st and 3rd grade children and is all about learning fractions. After playing the game, I ask the child to complete 1-2 pages in their textbook about fractions. This provides me with an assessment where I can see if students can transfer skills and knowledge gained from a game to questions and tasks from a textbook.  

Get Creative

Most textbooks and curriculum guidelines include Big Ideas, Outcomes, Learning Standards and Competencies. These help guide and structure the learning.

Choose one or two questions and discuss these with your child. Ask your child this question: Can you think of some ways to show me that you are working towards this standard or outcome? Then, get creative together. They could show you the standard or outcome in the form of a song, a written poem, or a design of some type. Whatever the aim is, the goal is to help them work towards achieving the standard, outcome or competency.

If your child has shown you that they understand the concept, then stop doing it and do something else, rather than do the same repeatedly.

Stay Organized

Store all your teaching and learning resources in just one place. It could be in a drawer, a cupboard, or a shelf in the garage where everything can be kept and easily found, making preparation calmer and more efficient.

Use a vertical whiteboard to teach and learn. As a student, your child should stand and work on vertical non-permanent surfaces such as a whiteboard, blackboard, or even the window at home. If you use the windows in your home, be sure to use a non-permanent marker!

Why is this a good way to learn? It makes the work visible to you and the students. At the same time, research suggests that the measures of enthusiasm, discussion, participation, persistence, non-linearity and movement are all winners when students used non-permanent surfaces, and in particular, when standing in a vertical position.

Play based learning
Annie Spratt / Unsplash.com

Incorporate Forest School

Get into the wilderness for a whole lesson or part of a lesson. In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv shows how teachers in Finland use environment-based education to calm children, build confidence and focus, and improve cognitive functioning.

Keep the Peace

Sometimes lessons don’t go well, and a child doesn’t want to learn no matter what strategy you use.  That's fine! Do something else that is correlated to the original lesson. When my children are having trouble concentrating on math, I might give them $5 each, and then we head off to the local food store. They look around for sale items and use the money to purchase as many items as possible, or the healthiest item, the sweetest, and the list goes on. Focus on being creative and enjoying each other’s company.

Be Flexible

A typical school day is about 6 hours. Homeschooling is about 2 hours a day, and that is sufficient. Never try and duplicate a standard school day.

Enjoy the journey

And finally, try to appreciate learning with your child. This time together is precious and will provide lasting memories for a very long time. You can do this!

You may also enjoy: Creating a Rich Winter Learning Environment, Why Children Need Nature for Future Well-Being, and How Unschooling Challenges the Traditional School of Thought.