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May 26
Embracing learning in the great outdoors!

Summer is just around the corner, and while the weather hasn't entirely made up its mind about bringing the sun out, students and educators are still finding tremendous opportunities for outdoor learning.

Alison Leslie, vice-principal at East Kensington Elementary, which hosts the district's EKOLogy program, said it's great how learning from home has prompted more students to take their education outside and learn in a different setting.

"There are tons of things parents can do with their kids outside, and they're huge learning opportunities," she said. "The experience of getting them outside shows the parents they're really engaged."

One of the biggest benefits of outdoor learning is an increased attention span, said Leslie, as being outside can take students out of a noisy, crowded classroom and put them in a more peaceful, open environment.

"They're actually more focused once they're outside," said Leslie. "Their natural endorphins relax, they feel more calm, their engagement is higher."

Recently, Colebrook Elementary students gathered stones outside and assembled families out of them. Families that rock! And Royal Heights Elementary students assembled bird feeders and outlined lessons on worms as part of work with the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation.

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Ray Shepherd Elementary students had more traditional art excursions, using nature as their muse. Here, students drew sparrows in their sketchbooks for a recent art class.

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But there's nothing wrong with staying outside either! Maple Green Elementary has been making the most of the good weather with many activities that use nature in artsy, creative ways.

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Leslie said art, P.E. and science aren't the only subjects students can learn outside – anything can be taught in nature, it just takes some adapting.

"The most difficult part is changing the mindset of the teacher on their approach," she said. "It's being very patient with yourself and following the student's lead – like, what are they interested in, and adapting in?

"For instance, I did a worm inquiry because they found 50 worms under a stump, and they were fascinated for a week. I just took their interest and narrowed it into the curriculum. The curriculum is geared to this exploratory type of learning."

And while students will have an opportunity to return to their classrooms in early June, Leslie said outdoor learning can take place virtually any time and any place (including in your own backyard) through activities such as scavenger hunts, nature walks and searching for indigenous species.

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