"A Week in the Forest" ~ Inspiring Learning Outside

Sunday, May 10, 2015

"It's a good thing to learn about nature in order to share this knowledge with children; it's even better if the adult and child learn about nature together. And it's a lot more fun." 
~ Richard Louv

This quote sums up beautifully the amazing experience and positive impact of the Ministry Pilot Project our class was fortunate enough to be a part of last week entitled "A Week in the Forest." This project was founded by Tanya Murray, an Outdoor Education Teacher and Specialist with Sibbald Point and Forest School Practitioner, with hopes that every child and educator alike could feel inspired to learn outside! Part 1 of the Pilot took place at Milliken Mills Public School in Markham and focused more on the urban school setting. Our school was Part 2 of the Pilot since our landscape was one that promoted a more rural environment and something we will now always call the "magical forest." 

I truly don't think a blog post could do this experience justice, but I feel that the photos alone tell the story of this exciting chapter of learning for myself as an educator and for my students. 

PART 1: Developing an "Outdoor Mindset"
We often talk about having a "Growth Mindset" in education which involves embracing new learning, taking risks and inspiring change, but how could these same principles transpire into developing an "Outdoor Mindset?"; one that allows us to look at nature as a landscape for learning?
As a team of educators within this pilot project, Tanya got us to think about and brainstorm ideas related to the following prompts:

Outside we learn...

Outdoor Learning is...

We wish...
I would like to challenge my followers to consider how they might develop an "Outdoor Mindset?" If you're an educator, what does your school community look like outside the walls of your classroom? What elements of nature can you capitalize on with your students? If you're a parent, what ways can you increase play outdoors? Going on a simple Nature Walk is a wonderful way to begin!  
For myself, this brainstorming session was a turning point for me as many "lightbulb moments" took place within our discussion and I feel that this dialogue alone, changed my perception around learning outdoors and the positive impact that it could have. It got me to consider the many benefits and opportunities that outdoor learning brings to our students that an indoor classroom cannot. 

Looking back on this past week, I witnessed firsthand the positive impact that the outdoors had on our youngest learners. From their self-regulation, problem-solving skills, and independence, to their excitement, eagerness and motivation to learn, there was no doubt in my mind that I too felt inspired to learn outside and alongside my students.       

PART 2: Planning & Purposeful Play
With the nature of the project being in the "pilot stage," it's important to note that the planning piece unfolded over the course of the week while being responsive to our students interests and needs within our outdoor classroom environment. The planning of each day was based upon much reflection and conversation as a team as we considered the outdoor barriers (e.g. safety, number of students, washrooms), key learning moments, and student engagement. 
As a way of addressing some of those barriers and ensuring student safety was number one, we decided to split our class into two groups as a way of minimizing numbers, addressing students' needs and giving us the opportunity to really dive deeper into dialogue with each of our learners when outside. 
With the help of some inspiring community partners from the York Region Nature Collaborative, Diane Kashin and ThinkinEd, as well as Diana Tucci from Forest School, supported our learning with thoughtful provocations and invitations for students to explore nature, our Caterpillar Inquiry and most importantly, giving students the opportunity to see themselves as "outdoor learners." 
Each invitation for learning was thoughtfully set up to support and extend our learning about caterpillars and nature of our inquiry. We also wanted to make sure that there was a cross-curricular approach to each provocation as a way of making visible to educators that you really can do it all outdoors! 
As a way of being resourceful, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many materials from within our classroom (e.g. cutting boards, clips, apple sauce containers, clipboards, loose parts, etc) could be used and respected outdoors. 
Even though this project took place over the course of 5 days, it was truly incredible to see how quickly and easily our students adapted to these new routines, expectations and environment. 

Students freely flowed amongst all of the provocations within the forest and created their own extensions naturally within the space. I truly can't wait to continue the momentum from this project by continuing to embrace outdoor learning for the remainder of the school year.  

PART 3: "Sit Spots"
This concept was something that I absolutely loved and builds on the framework of developing a connection with nature. Within the project, students each received a "sit spot" to which they would use every morning before entering our "magical forest" space. 
The beauty of the "sit spot" is that it gives students the opportunity to have repeated access to a space and build an appreciation for nature. As educators, we are the adult role models who can nurture that connection to that outdoor space. Even if your school doesn't have a forest, pond or open area, "sit spots" are still possible even if it's on a soccer field. 
Our class began with a 2 minute "sit spot" and each day we increased the time to build stamina, awareness, and connection to their natural surroundings. It was amazing to see how in-tuned they got with nature as students were excited to share what they saw and heard after enjoying their "sit spot" time. As an extension, bringing in different materials such as magnifying glasses, clipboards, writing materials, frames, etc could all be used for students to enjoy while sitting in their "sit spots" and as a way of capturing what they see and hear.

PART 4: Reflection
To avoid making this blog post a small novel, I just can't say enough positive things about the nature of this pilot project! As an educator, I discovered a hidden "gem" behind our school that I never knew existed and witnessed firsthand the love and excitement that our students had to learn outdoors. The hashtag #InspireLearningOutside rang true each day and our caterpillar inquiry came to a close while another inquiry about insects took off! Our students' creativity, imagination and love for learning grew daily outdoors and it was amazing to see them take risks, go outside their comfort zone and develop a sense of environmental stewardship. I can even say the same about myself as an educator. I stepped outside my comfort zone daily, took risks and have gained a new sense of appreciation for nature as an educator.  
A HUGE thank you goes out to Tanya for her collaboration, patience, enthusiasm, passion and love for the outdoors. She not only inspired me daily, but she helped me see how amazing the outdoors can be as a second classroom. Thank you to Diane and the instructors from ThinkinEd for also inspiring me daily throughout this project and for helping create an enriching, thought-provoking and robust learning environment outdoors for our students and for us as a teaching team.  

If you would like to see more photos and ideas created throughout this Pilot Project, be sure to follow the hashtag: #InspireLearningOutside on social media. 


  1. What a gift, both to you as educators and to your students. I am deeply immersed in my own journey into using the natural rhythm of patterns and cycles outdoors as material for study, and as such I am inspired by this beautiful undertaking you are doing (along with the other pilot schools). Thank you for sharing so many details of what must have been a whirlwind week... I can imagine that the true impact of your week outdoors will be felt for weeks and months to come, as your worldview grows. As such I'm looking forward to future posts about your exciting project with this fabulous YR Nature team. Good luck!

    1. Hi Laurel,
      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on what truly was an incredible learning experience for all! I truly wish the week itself didn't have to end - the excitement from the kids each day and even from our parent volunteers and educator teams was infectious! I truly can't wait to continue this learning when moving forward and continuing to push myself outside my comfort zone! Thank you for always being an inspiration to me and I look forward to hopefully collaborating with ideas in the near future!
      Warm regards,

  2. What a wonderful blog post Jocelyn. You were able to capture all the big moments very well throughout. I want to thank you for the opportunity to join your class and see this Pilot Project from an observer's perspective and how I can go back an implement even more into my daily practice with my kiddos. I continue to believe in the need to keep our kids connected to nature during our time with them in order to promote more outdoor experiences when they are not in school.
    We have continued with "Sit Spots" regularly and find the children are able to have better Knowledge Building Circles with this focused connection to nature first.
    Kim Clark

  3. What a wonderful way to teach children about the outdoors and nature. So many of our children do not get the opportunity to be outside enough or learn from our environment and nature. This experience will remain with the children for the rest of their lives and hopefully will keep them involved in the wonderful world of nature and make them good stewards of our environment.

    Christie @ Waldorf School of Baltimore


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