One area our entire team is very passionate about is outdoor learning. We believe that children need generous amounts of outdoor time to explore, play, create and wonder about the world around them. We are so fortunate to have a huge outdoor area that accommodates all types of learning. We think of our outdoor space as an extension of our classroom. Our students’ outdoor learning time includes a balance of teacher and student directed activities, as well as whole group, small group and even one on one learning.
Several years ago, we began to shift our understanding of outdoor learning. We moved away from thinking of it as an extended recess and towards an opportunity where children could participate in a variety of learning experiences, while receiving the numerous benefits of being outdoors. Children were continually bringing pinecones, seeds, insects, flowers, pebbles and critters indoors because they were drawn to these beautiful, natural items. In fact, most of our successful inquiry projects have centred around natural materials that children can directly explore.
After attending a wonderful workshop about outdoor learning and noticing how inquiry + nature fit together so seamlessly, we began to evolve our outdoor learning time into a program that supports and builds environmental inquiry directly into its core.
What is Environmental Inquiry?
According to Natural Curiosity (2011) “Environmental Inquiry is an overarching approach to Environmental Education that integrates Inquiry-based Learning, Experiential Learning, Integrated Learning, and Stewardship into a dynamic and cohesive pedagogical framework.”
The graphic above shows that the heart of environmental inquiry is inquiry based learning. This process builds on students’ fascination and wonderings about the world and recognizes that the process of learning (questioning, reflecting, researching, sharing) is necessary for meaningful connections to take place.
The Ontario Kindergarten Program document (2016) reminds us to be selective about the topics we use to support inquiry based learning and encourages educators to stick with ones that can be directly observed or explored by students. This idea of experiential learning, or learning by doing, is another component of environmental inquiry. When students interact with objects around them through their senses, they compare their current experience to their prior knowledge and new knowledge is born. (Natural Curiosity, 2011)
Finally, we feel strongly that by spending time outdoors and teaching children to both marvel and respect the environment, we foster a sense of stewardship. We want our students to be empowered to care for the earth and recognize the power they have in protecting and caring for their home.