Environmental education (EE) is a primary pillar of teaching and learning at Red Oak Community School (ROCS). Students spend 2 full hours each day playing outdoors with little adult intervention. In our next post we'll share more on how and why we do this, followed by a series of posts documenting some of the ways kids are learning during that time.
In this, our second year of operation, ROCS teachers are working to bring more instructional activities outdoors as well. This is a learning process for them, as well as our students and parents accustomed to more conventional methods and modes of instruction. Last Thursday, they took advantage of Outdoor Classroom Day, an international effort to keep kids outdoors for an entire school day. We'd like to think of it as an introduction and celebration of more outdoor teaching and learning to come. The following notes from second year ROCS teacher Maureen Alley offer some snapshots of what went on at ROCS that day.
"In the morning, students constructed a slingshot using old nylon rope and sticks. They decided on this project themselves, created it, tested it, then shared their contraption with others. It was a student-led endeavor that came about because there was enough time and space to work though the idea!
Later in the morning, our older students chose targeted learning groups to participate in. Some went to the creek to collect rocks to paint. These works of art will eventually line the paths between the new classrooms on our property.
Others chose to play a large-scale version of the game Mancala (read about how to play here - then go out and find some rocks and acorns and make your own set at home!). Playing by the rules led to questioning the rules, creating new mancala rules, and experimenting to see which rules worked best. Students then experimented with different ways to create checker and hopscotch boards using chalk and rocks.
Other students played The Web of Life game, learning about how the sun, producers, and consumers work together to support life. They also modified the game to see what would happen to the web if something happened to one group of creatures.
The youngest group went on a "micro hike." They used magnifying glasses to examine the ground around a single piece of string. They observed insects, eggs, leaves, and more activity than they expected. We were impressed to see this activity occupy ten five-year olds for forty-five minutes!
And of course, there was reading! We read A Beetle Is Shy, clapping out syllables to new vocab words and trying to identify a beetle we found outside. Some students chose independent reading, warming themselves in the sun on the brick porch or finding a shady spot in the grass. It is so wonderful to see children choose reading as a refuge to relax and recharge.
The afternoon saw self-portraits made with found natural materials, reading, and art in the grass, and a massive creek-clean up. Students hauled out buckets of broken brick, pointed out glass for the teachers to pick up, and practiced environmental stewardship in a real and tangible way."
The kids were so happy, and tired, and dirty at the end of the day. Some even reported that they'd had a "free day," but the adults who were present know that a lot of learning was going on. We're looking forward to documenting more of how we can make this seemingly invisible learning more visible to our students, their parents, and readers of this blog.