No Child Left Inside! Extend Your Classroom Outdoors

Take your classroom outdoors! There is a huge focus on the Outdoor Classroom now, due in large part to Richard Louv’s book, “Last Child in the Woods,” which ignited a renewal of the return-to-nature movement for children. I grew up in the 1950s and 60s where we spent most of our childhood outside in natural settings, with lots of unstructured free time, and little or no adult supervision. Today many children are preoccupied with electronic devices, inside and in front of screens, eating junk food, and lacking in physical activity, let alone contact with nature. October 14-20 is “Take It Outside Week!” Head Start Body Start National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play (HSBS) created Take It Outside Week in 2009. The third week of every October marks a time to celebrate the natural world and encourage educators, families, and caregivers to make time outdoors an important part of young children’s daily lives. I support this and encourage you to visit my October 2011 post where I shared ideas and activities that you can include in your Outdoor Classroom.

My first job as an early childhood educator was that of an Outdoor Teacher at a parent co-operative preschool. Back then, in 1977, no one had even heard of a preschool teacher having a job as the “Outdoor Teacher.” Our preschool was behind a church and the classroom doors were always open to the outside playground which had a climbing structure anchored in sand and a bank of swings (three to be exact). My job, come rain or shine, was to organize and prepare the outdoor environment–taking out the wheel toys, sand toys, water tables, and setting up some outdoor learning centers, whether it be carpentry or an obstacle course.

This play yard was not in a natural setting. There was no grass nor trees to be found, only asphalt, an occasional bird or insect…and lots and lots of active children. It was probably the most popular area of the school. I discovered that my outdoor environment offered all the learning opportunities that one would typically find indoors–experiences in math, science, nature, social studies, dramatic play, art, music, language and literacy.

The outdoor program developed critical thinking, discovery, problem solving, and cooperative skills while supporting children’s continuous growth and learning–physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively. As the Outdoor Teacher for twelve years I was an observer and supporter of child-initiated play. During this time, I also took classes in child development, early childhood curriculum, music and movement, sensory motor integration, perceptual motor development, and physical activity and its connection to brain development. I eventually taught those same classes at several community colleges.

I am now traveling and sharing what I’ve experienced and learned as an Early Care and Education Teacher and Outdoor Teacher. I offer workshops and trainings on the Outdoor Classroom, doing some “Sharin‘ with Sharron” on what I have learned as an educator. On November 9 from 10:00 – 11:30 AM, I will be presenting a workshop at the 2012 NAEYC Annual Conference & Expo in Atlanta, Georgia titled, “NO CHILD LEFT INSIDE! Meeting Curriculum Standards with Concrete Outdoor Experiences.” Come join me and learn how to plan and implement outdoor activities that meet your learning outcomes and objectives even with limited outdoor space and resources.

Here’s one activity that promotes language, literacy and physical development that can literally be “rolled out” on the play yard.

ABC Walk & Toss
Materials Needed:
Alphabet Floor Mat with Markers (ABCWALK)
Alphabet Beanbags (ABCTOSS)
Classroom Activity Baskets (CATCHY)
Set Up:
Roll out the ABC Floor Mat in available space.
Put alphabet beanbags in plastic baskets.

Let’s Get Started:
Ask children to:
1. Find the letter that their name starts with on the mat and jump on it 5 times.
2. Toss the beanbag letter that their name starts with onto the matching letter on the mat.
3. Match all the alphabet beanbags to the matching letters on the mat.
4. Walk, jump or hop on the alphabet stepping stones while saying each letter.
5. Match the lowercase markers to the uppercase letters on the mat.
6. Match the lowercase markers to the lower case alphabet beanbags.
7. Sort the alphabet beanbags by color in the corresponding baskets.
8. Give each child one alphabet beanbags and ask them to find the matching letter on the mat and stand on it.

Furthermore:
1. With older children you can move on to recognizing the sounds of the letters. Say a sound of the alphabet and have the child stand on the letter represented by that sound. You can also have the child stand on each letter and indicate which sound the letter makes.
2. Using the alphabet beanbags, give one to each child and ask him/her to line up along the mat in order, following the order of the alphabet. You can also do it with the lowercase letter markers or the lowercase letters on the alphabet beanbags.

Learning Outcomes/Objectives/Standards:
• Language Development–Listening, Following Directions
• Literacy–Alphabet Knowledge–Letter recognition–Uppercase and lowercase
• Literacy–Alphabet Knowledge–Begin to recognize that letters have sounds
• Mathematics–Classification–Recognize when two things are the same
• Mathematics–Classification–Sorting beanbags by color to corresponding basket
• Physical Development–Fine & Gross Motor Skills
• Eye-hand coordination–throwing beanbag to matching letter
• Dexterity and Control–able to manipulate beanbag
• Balance and Control–able to balance when walking, jumping, etc.
• Locomotor Movements–walking, jumping, hopping

Discount School Supply® Product Recommendations:
Alphabet Floor Mat with Markers (ABCWALK)
Alphabet Bean Bags (ABCTOSS)
Classroom Activity Baskets (CATCHY)

Unplug… And Reconnect with Nature

It’s hard to believe that this week is designated as “Take a Child Outside Week.” The fact that we even need to have an initiative to motivate parents to go outside with their children and connect with nature is beyond comprehension for me!

During my childhood years, there was no better place to be than outside. In fact, our parents didn’t even offer us any other options; they just wanted to know that we were in the “neighborhood.” This could mean the woods near our house, down the street playing in someone’s backyard or at the school playground around the corner. We were always outside even as our parents stayed inside. Our parents didn’t have to “take us outside.” Our parents didn’t buy nor need to steer us away from the HDTV, video games, computers, phones and other technological gadgets that bombard the environment of children today. It seems a bit ironic that it’s the parent’s responsibility to get their children outside when it is they, the parents, who buy all the newest technology and allow (or even encourage) their children to learn how to use it. In Richard Louv’s book, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder,” he quotes a fourth-grader as saying, “I like to play indoors better ‘cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”

I saw an ad in the paper last week that had the following message, “There is no childhood obesity epidemic. (We just need better role models.)” We need parents to recognize that they are their children’s first teachers and that they are their children’s role models. One in three kids are overweight or obese and electronic media and junk food are partly to blame. And who is buying these pricey video games and high fat and sugar foods? It’s usually not the 4- to 8-year-old child. I feel as responsible adults we need not to be spending money on these items for our young children. Turn off the TV (I think there’s a designated week for that too!), and consider playing a video game or watching a movie a “treat” and not something to be consumed 5-6 hours daily!

What if we open the door and give children the time and opportunities to explore and discover nature on their own? Finding worms and dirt and leaves and sticks and rocks and bugs and whatever the outdoor space has to offer, the natural world is rich in sensory experiences for children. Smell the flowers, listen to the birds, feel the wind on your face, roll in the grass, stomp in the puddles or watch the shapes of clouds in the sky. Even in urban environments, children can experience nature. Provide magnifying glasses, tweezers , and small shovels for children to explore a small patch of dirt or grass. Even weeds grow in sidewalk cracks, ants can be found there too. Place a thermometer outside and read the temperature. Watch shadows, use binoculars for bird or squirrel watching. You don’t have to be a naturalist to instill in children an awe of the world and a desire to discover and uncover what is around them. You can nurture children’s interest in nature simply by demonstrating your own excitement and curiosity. Let’s go outside! You are a role model!