It was one of those mornings. By 9AM, the Kindergarteners were struggling to be kind and respectful to one another. They were forgetting the class rules that they had established the first week of school. They had a hard time with redirection and engaging in meaningful experiences. But at 9AM, it was time to transition to our Outdoor Classroom. Everything completely flipped. It was sunny and 75. They had the entire park to explore for the next 2+ hours. Each individual was visibly more relaxed, less on edge and now ready to learn.
After a mile long adventure around the trail, they quite literally dove right into day 2 of "pond" discoveries. Because our curriculum is child-led, the students are constantly learning about topics they find relevant and interesting (meaning students retain the content better). Discussion of ecosystems and habitats began a couple of weeks ago (prompted by one child's proposal for a class pet). Through conversations of what types of pets could survive in our classroom environment (the wildest suggestion was a baby alligator), an ongoing project was dreamt up. This week students have been working on creating their own representations of habitats specific to a creature of their choosing. When this portion of the project is complete, the Kindergarteners are looking forward to presenting the finished product to our Preschool students with an explanation of how and why these creations were developed. We wish we could map out where this will evolve, but to plan the path of this project would limit the potential.
These images capture the joyfulness of childhood. But, what they are learning goes beyond how to simply have fun through muddy water play (although this is an important life skill we would argue). Initially, the students carefully assessed the risk involved in the pool of water they had noticed in the back corner of the park. They tested theories for how deep the water was. They worked as a team to investigate the surroundings. A couple of children asked for permission to get in the water. Others rationalized that because they were wearing rain boots and had a change of clothes, it was fine to get wet and muddy. They made observations of the depth and temperature of the water. When reaching conclusions, the children taught one another. Alex said, "The water is cold over here because it's not in the sun." Several students worked to create a theory as to why the "pond" was located here rather than anywhere else at the park; what caused the water to stay after a rainstorm? The answer agreed upon was, "The ground is probably just lower here" (Landry). Micah explained that this was the perfect habitat for "snapping turtles." Charlie added that "frogs and ducks and snakes could live here too." Markus described the bottom of the "pond" as surprisingly "grassy instead of muddy." Charlie corrected his friends and explained that, "This is not actually a pond but rather a pool of fresh rain water." Together, we have discovered that this habitat not only supports frogs, turtles and snakes but also maintains balance within other ecosystems. Friends shared ideas for what types of mammals may visit the pool of rain water to drink and to "sustain all of life - even humans" (Charlie, 5 years old). Our "pond" adventures are always more meaningful than we could have hoped.
Meanwhile, not every child is interested in getting wet and messy. Our Outdoor Classrooms allows the time, space and respect for friends to make different choices. Sometimes they choose to climb a tree instead or to read or draw quietly on a park bench. Requiring every student to participate in the same experiences does not best meet individual (and often sensory-related) needs. This realization has opened the door to finding creative ways to connect with each child... because "No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship."