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Embracing Nature’s Playground and Classroom


Taking learning outside is a concept long embraced in the Burnaby School District. With the emphasis on outdoor learning in our back-to-school restart plans, teachers are seizing opportunities to immerse education in nature.

Before school had even started, more than 120 Burnaby teachers attended a session in September to learn more about facilitating outdoor learning opportunities. Among the positives to bringing the curriculum outside are: stimulating creative thinking, supporting curiosity and adaptability, as well as an appreciation for nature and caring for your outdoor environment.

Several schools, such as Aubrey and Confederation Park Elementary have permanent outdoor classrooms that teachers can access. Many educators are also creating their own “classroom” opportunities in nature, such as at Parkcrest Elementary. There, teacher Brenda Montagano found a creative way to make learning mobile for her Grade 4/5 students with a “portable outdoor classroom.”

Principal Andrew Lee:

 

Students carry their personal supplies and materials for explorations in their bucket, which doubles as a seat. When they arrive at their chosen location, they take out their supplies, flip their buckets over, and gather around – socially distanced – for their class discussion.”

As temperatures cool, there’s a need for students to come to school prepared for the weather, so they can keep warm and dry while learning outside. Sheri Brattston, the Managing Director of Community Education, says teachers are mindful that not all children have clothing for the elements:

 

We’re incredibly grateful to our community partners. They’re helping us to ensure that students who need it have equitable access to outdoor clothing.”

Among the years-long partnerships, Brattston says individual teachers are appreciative that they can apply to the Burnaby Children’s Fund to purchase items, such as outdoor rain gear, for students who wouldn’t otherwise have it. Additionally, the Burnaby Rotary Club is providing coats and boots for kids through their annual drive supported by local businesses.

Outdoor learning in the rain was made much more comfortable for students at Second Street Community School and Armstrong Elementary, thanks to poncho donations from BASES Thrift Store this year. The rain was not a deterrent for Mr Owen’s Grade 4/5 class as they headed to nearby Robert Burnaby Park to study forest species hands-free with no need for umbrellas.

From learning about Indigenous culture and plants to school gardens, reading outdoors, measuring trees, or having scavenger hunts, schools and teachers are finding creative ways to take education outside. See more examples below.

Ms Norris took her Grade 8s at Burnaby North Secondary on a 14 kilometre walking field trip. They went from classroom to forest to investigate how we are connected to place. Also at Burnaby North, Grade 12 Advanced Placement Literature students took their class outside for “Lit Circle.”


Grade 6 and 7 students headed out to the school grounds at Inman Elementary for a Terry Fox fact hunt. Teachers, Ms Iverson and Ms Lloyd, used storyboards at various locations where the students enthusiastically discovered the answers to their questions.
Ms Iverson:

 

They liked being outside, working together, and having fun.” 

Suncrest Elementary teacher Sharmila Kalagendran takes her primary students out to the nearby creek for Travelling Tuesdays. Students explore and learn about the plants that live there. Last year, they learned about the negative impact of invasive species and they worked to clean up the creekside landscape by pulling up ivy.


Forest Grove Elementary’s Dawn Howey brings her Kindergarten students outside at least once a week in collaboration with StrongStart educator Roz Duchesneau. A walk on the school grounds and around the neighbourhood provides endless opportunities for learning. One such example, in the form of inquiry, was finding out how nature’s gift of rain could help students create art. Students took blue, black, and white paint on their walk, and as the rain splashed onto their canvases, they worked in concert with nature using their brushes and paint. “Wednesday Wander” was started five years ago by Ms Howey and Ms Duchesneau, whose StrongStart group also joins Howey’s class when it is in session. Over the years teacher Kaitlyn Mackie along with Education Assistant Alisa Hansen and their Kindergarten students have also enjoyed coming on the adventures. In addition to viewing the place we live as a space for learning opportunities, the educators teach students the value and history of the land and the gifts it brings – all with a view to also having students connect to and care for their space.