Step Outside and Enhance Your Learning
Walking and being outdoor changes the brain. Students can become more creative, more observant and less stressed. There are many benefits for the students and the educators to step outside.
Sadly, teachers have a lot of administrative pressures. They have to ensure that they address the many areas of the curriculum. We can support teachers by offering them studies that explain which part of the curriculum the outdoor activities meet. Being outdoors boosts our physical and mental health.
Health, Movement & Exploration
Connecting children with nature reduces their stress. It also increases the chance of nature being less stressed by human impact. Connections with nature enable a child to understand how nature works and builds empathy for others and their respect for the natural environment on which their lives depend.
Nature-based activities can enrich the learning program. We can even go one step further and design an amazing garden class-room.
Nature-based Games & Activities
Nature-based games are as old as …?
The process of re-discovering and developing nature-based games can be a lesson in history and creativity. What did children play with before plastic toys became abundant? This is a wonderful opportunity to build imagination. Encourage the children be part of this re-discovery.
Activities include weather observations, seed-raising, ‘mini-beasts’ or ‘micro-creature’ measurements and mapping of their web-of-life, drawing and classification (worms, insects). Science experiments about pH, cooking and cultural discussions about food, hygiene and disease, microscopic adventures about fungi and bacteria, research into origins of medicinal plants and much more.
In the garden children can use tall sticks (ie. banana stems, sugarcane, sunflowers, artichokes, sage) as structural material to build tipis, towers or sculptures. The garden classroom can be a great resource for learning about aboriginal houses or traditional home structures, building and shelters. Whether you build a full-size replica or models, the children learn how to use genuine natural resources like poles and natural rope.
Weaving with edible plant material (especially from strong vines like kiwi-fruit and passion-fruit) is a meditative and mathematical activity. Food plants provide healthy, low allergy weaving and building materials.
Storytelling and Story writing
The range of light levels within a garden allows children to find their ideal light level to suit their reading, writing and working. Storytelling in an open space can be difficult in the city if there is a lot of environment noise, or it can become a theatrical challenge. The garden classroom can designed to amplify the production. Outdoors, the story-teller has an excuse to dramatise the text in order to be heard.
The garden classroom is a fresh and ever-evolving space full of material for story writing. Children can explore new ways to tell a story or better grasp old poetry, the importance of traditional story-telling, the tribal ‘sense of place’, the dreamtime and ancient maps.
But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head, And he swung his stockwhip round and gave a cheer, And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed, While the others stood and watched in very fear. [Banjo Paterson]
How Can We Design a Garden-Classroom
Apply Fundamental Permaculture Design Principles
Permaculture principles are a valuable tool to apply to learning and can guide our design of a productive learning space. There are various permaculture principles but here we can examine two of the fundamental permaculture principles:
1. Every element provides many functions
2. Every function is met by many elements.
For example: a simple letter-box/mail-box is an element. It collects the mail, displays a house number, is a guidepost in heavy weather. It can also support a vine or can be, albeit unwittingly, an insect or arachnid home. One of these functions (the less desirable one) of ‘housing insects’ can be supported by various other elements i.e. hollow trees, bee boxes or the neighbours letter-boxes :>
1. Every Element provides many Functions
2. Every Function is met by many Elements
Permaculture Principles in the Learning Space:
Every Element in the learning space
provides many Functions
One of the elements in an outdoor space is a shade-tree. This shade tree can provide many other functions: wind and rain protection, leaf litter for mulch, poles, habitat for wildlife, a structure to hang a swing or decorative artworks, a play space.
Every Function in the learning space met by many Elements.
The function – shade, can be supported by many other elements. We can use deciduous trees, domes, tipis frames with woven vines , suspended shade material (recycled sheets can be used), sun hats and/or umbrellas. Children may enjoy painting and erecting old sheets or drop-cloths as an art project to add colour to the space. Poles can be gathered from fallen or pruned branches of nearby trees. Using recycled materials and resources from nature builds empowerment and problem solving.
Ideally, the process of design consults the school staff, the community and the children. The design needs to be able to adapt to the changing community needs. Consulting the stakeholders helps us define the elements desired. Work with the shape of the land and do a full permaculture design with the confidence of knowing that compost resources will be abundant if the children deposit their food scraps and the garden. Maintenance workers can provide some weaving material as well as mulching material such as grass clippings.
The school garden may be one the few green spaces in a city. Many of the residents near the school welcome the opportunity to participate in growing food, creating a beautiful gardens with the children and increasing habitat for birds and native bees.
Encourage the community to find ways to safely integrate adult participation. Perhaps the adults are active in a separate area at a separate time to the children. Hopefully there will be times when the whole community can come together to plant trees or tend the garden or celebrate the harvest.
“Now, you’re talking!”
There are some food plants that get adults truly motivated. These include such as coffee bean and green-tea bushes, native foods (bush tucker and survival foods), culinary flowers and spices. If you are lucky to have immigrants living in your area, invite them to share their stories about food and spices and how it is traditionally grown and used.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. … There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
— Rachel Carson, Silent Spring