COVID-19 has impacted many aspects of daily life in the last year, including the classroom and how education is handled.
In an effort to get kids out of the classroom and outside into a safer environment, Meg Langley has helped launched the Wildsight Outdoor Classroom Project, which has recently been funded through the Golden Community Foundation COVID response grant.
The program involves equipping schools in Golden and area with gear for students to get outside, such as clipboards and seating pads, shovels, magnifying glasses, a backpack and paper that is able to withstand the elements, as well as providing teachers with materials and books on outdoor activities and outdoor learning.
Langley says that the outdoor curriculum goes beyond typical outdoor education and brings regular academic work outside. She’s a strong believer in outdoor learning, stating that there’s plenty of evidence that an outdoor environment can foster good learning behaviours and education.
“For me, it’s important for the teachers to realize that they can take school outside and it can be successful for everybody involved,” said Langley.
“Learning how to manage and work with kids outside is so important, so that going forward there will be more of the students time spent outside.
Langley says it helps teach kids to prepare themselves for being outdoors and to take responsibility for dressing appropriately to prepare. She also says it can help teach that learning environments extend beyond the traditional classroom and can show students that there’s opportunities to learn everywhere.
Langley can speak first hand to an outdoor learning experience, saying that growing up, she attended forest schools where the majority of her learning was all completed outdoors.
“It’s a shift mentally to start thinking ‘why not be outside and what are the potentials’,” said Langley.
“There’s so much material to use for teaching in nature and the potential is quite remarkable once the teachers see it.
Forest schools began in Denmark in the 1950s and have been around as a formal concept since 1993.
According to a study facilitated by the Child & Nature Alliance of Canada, Forest Schools can improve student mental health, increase confidence, advance gross motor schools, increase resiliency and teach better self regulation.
“Generally, the kids get excited to go outside and get excited to learn, the response has been super,” said Langley.
Langley says the program has already seen success – she’s substitute taught in schools in the area and has already implemented the outdoor education, primarily at the Nicholson school.
She attributes the success in part to the buy-in of teachers and students alike in the area, stating it’s not hard when you live in a place like Golden.
“We live in a place ideally suited to being out of doors as much as possible,” said Langley.
“With COVID it’s great to use that to help our teachers and students get used to learning outside and take advantage of the situation while staying safe.”
The grant covered all the elementary schools for each student to get an outdoor kit, with intermediate schools receiving a classroom set up that can be checked out to be used by teachers as needed.