All Hands In The Dirt!
On October 24th and 25th, three staff members Mr. Grundy, Mme. Samuel and Mme. Cenac-Lopes participated in EverGreen’s All Hands in the Dirt Conference. This forum explores new ideas and innovations in children’s outdoor learning spaces. International and national leaders in the field attend this event and our staff members came away inspired and motivated to bring the ideas they learned to Davisville. The teachers’ workshop fees were paid for by the School Council and they are extremely grateful for our support.
In addition to a beautiful thank you card, that you can see in the school office, they have kindly shared their take away notes with us and will be attending our November council meeting to explain their findings in detail.
Here are their notes:
All Hands in The Dirt Reflections
Cam Collyer thanked everyone for coming and a few things resonated. 79% of parents support kids’ activities financially. We have higher sedentary behavior. We have less unstructured play. Our kids do not know what to do.
I think this forum wasn’t so much about learning something completely new as it was about strengthening my resolve to create natural spaces for the children in our school to learn and to grow. Of course, I picked up a few ideas along the way!
Friday Keynote: Landscapes for Children – Perspectives from Denmark
My big takeaway here was a two-part quote: “Play is a question of space, time and allowness” along with “loose materials to play with – and plenty of room.” What I took with me was this syndrome we have nowadays of the overprotected kid. We saw so many nature gardens, sensory gardens where there is so much for kids to imagine, create and play. The concept of RISK benefit was mentioned.
Turning Over a New Leaf – Using Clay for Eco-Artmaking: The practical take-away from this workshop was that I now know which kind of clay to use for outdoor installations! It was also a lovely reminder that we can use many different media to encourage children to express their thoughts and ideas about the world around them and that we can present these ideas to the larger community in beautifully creative ways. The process of using a natural material (in this case, leaves) to create artwork that can be hung out in the garden was a source of inspiration to do the same to co-create with our students to improve our own school grounds.
Seeding Healthy Schools – Engaging Students in Food Gardens
Much of this workshop centred on urban farming in the context of co-op in high school, but the idea of growing edible plants with the help of the students is something that seems very accessible and achievable to do both in the redeveloped K yards, with Eco Club and with our school.
Weaving Nature into Schools – Designing and Teaching with Willow: It was really interesting to learn how to make a willow arch/tunnel and, although it is something I’d never really thought about adding to our schoolyard before, it is definitely something I would love to add now! What a lovely way it would be to create a little calm, slightly hidden spot for a child who needs a break from the hustle and bustle of the yard! I am determined to further my skills in the area of working with willow now, as I think that this kind of hands-on creativity could be valuable for some of the children in our school who struggle with their emotions from time to time. There is something very calming about weaving and patterning and working with one’s hands….
Making Outdoor Learning Count – Greening Math Trails
This was a participatory workshop that meant we left with both lesson ideas and experience trying them. The focus was on challenging students to make their own discoveries and share those with their peers by using their knowledge. The experiences we had did not seem like “starter” activities, but more “extension” activities that would reinforce and further classroom learning and engage the students with the outdoors, encouraging them to look closely and think about what they see.
The Benefits of Risk – Challenge and Safety in Playground Design: It was interesting to learn a little bit more about the design perspective in creating play spaces for children. There are definitely ways to add an element of risk to children’s play while minimizing the danger! It was interesting discussing the element of teacher and parent being okay with risk and how we can help facilitate the conversation around risk benefit.
Nature Inspired Teaching – Tools and Stragegies for Outdoor Learning: This hands-on workshop provided some great ideas for games and activities to use with our classrooms while we are outside. From simple ideas about how to interact with nature (use “deer ears” to listen carefully to what is around you, use “raccoon hands” to gently touch things without hurting them) to some fun games that teach children about taking landmarks and the attributes of local wildlife, there were many ideas presented that we will be able to use in our teaching.
From Asphalt and Chain Link to Nature and Learning – Transforming Outdoor Learning Environments for Early Years
The big take-away here was that every little bit counts. The presentation was in 2 parts, with the first focusing on before and afters of daycares, early years centres and schools that had made changes to their playgrounds to support play. We were reminded of the importance of shade and features that students are able to engage with. The 2nd part of the presentation was from a teacher who was using one of the playgrounds – she had very little time, but showed how she integrates indoors and outdoors in her classroom and uses some of the elements in the playground to further in-class learning (or vice-versa, taking ideas from outside and building on them inside).
Saturday Keynote: Popping the Bubble Wrap for Injury Prevention – Promoting Nature-Based Risky Play
My biggest takeaway here was that the presentation was from someone who is in the injury-prevention injury. Like Friday, there is also a quote: “Keeping kids safe means letting them take risks.” It helps develop risk assessment skills and in deciding about healthy and unhealthy risk taking.
A Journey Back to Nature – Loose Parts Play and Inquiry Based Learning For Early Years: I visited Maria Crowther’s classroom and outdoor space last year, and it was a major source of inspiration to redevelop the K playgrounds the way we are. (R. Grundy) In seeing her again, I’ve become very excited for the possibilities for what we can do in those spaces once they open. As a kindergarten educator, this was probably the most useful workshop I attended. The woman who lead this session was an inspiration! She gave so many practical ideas on how to set up and maintain loose parts for outdoor play and demonstrated the benefits of playing with these materials. My biggest takeaway was the piece of using what you can get FOR FREE and building on that.
The Greening of an Inner City School: While this session was about a secondary school, it was very inspiring to see how a space in the middle of a city, much like our own school, was transformed into a beautiful space with plenty of opportunities to teach and learn outdoors. This presentation again focused mainly on high school, but provided some ideas about what could be put in place during the Davisville redevelopment in terms of maintaining grounds and storm water management. The school we learned about has built a rainwater harvesting system that collects runoff from their playing field and then is used to water the gardens they have built around the perimeter of the school. Side effects of what they have done have included stronger connections with their surrounding community, and an increase in school pride. All this from a school located in downtown Kitchener.
How to Get there from here/Engaging with the design process: This session spoke about how greening is a very slow process and we have to be hungry to get it. A parent from William Burgess and she with her parent team really drove this project and hope to see it to fruition. My main takeaway: There is ALWAYS money. We just need to find who is distributing it.
Designing and Programming Nature Study Areas: Again, great ideas for creating a “wild” outdoor learning space in the middle of the city. The benefits of leaving a patch of the yard to grow and develop untended are many. This session also provided ideas for activities that could be implemented in this kind of environment, or on a field trip. I had heard of roping off areas of a school yard from grounds maintenance before, but this was an introduction to the term “Nature Study Area,” which seems like the kind of name that the school and community could get behind. Less of a garden than a wild place where nature is allowed to take over, and students become stewards and naturalists. I even have a thought about an under-utilized space in the main playground that might be a good candidate for doing this at Davisville.