Last week we went outside. Don’t get me wrong, the kids go outside every day for recess and lunch in the cold, the wet and the horrible. We tend not to have inside days at our school, and have adopted the mantra of “You are not made of sugar; you will not melt.” But last week was beautiful: clear skies, sun shining and, for us, cold. With the wind chill, it felt like -15 on certain days. On this particular day, we were at a nice, warm, breezy 0 degrees.
I need to take a step back to earlier in the day. Our letter of the week was B. We were learning about bears, the colour brown, bananas and of course, we made binoculars. Let me tell you, 2 toilet paper rolls hot glue gunned together can actually make binoculars. In the imaginative minds of the 4 and 5 year olds, those binoculars worked. I mean, they really worked. Add a piece of string to wear them around your neck and those things are golden. Of course, the next question from every single child in my class was, “Can we take these outside for recess?” Well, I had bigger plans.
After lunch, we put on winter coats, mittens, hats, and scarves and we looked like we were heading out into the frozen wastelands instead of just the bottom field. A guest was with us this time. Our wonderful First Nations EA was coming outside to teach us a song about a bear, complete with sign language. Doing music outside was a gift. Our voices could be as loud as we wanted with no one shutting the door on our melodious singing. It was quite exciting to have new binoculars, a new song in a new language and a glorious weather day.
Once released to go off and explore, my amazement at my small humans grew. My ELL boys decided they could see everything through the binoculars, and the vocabulary they were using made me smile. Apparently, 2 toilet paper rolls could help them see the lights at the buildings across the street, the wings and beaks on the geese flying overhead, and the waving hands of passengers in the plane who may or may not have been flying to India. Other children could see the birds hiding in the trees, the squirrels hiding their winter “stuff”, and even the treads on my rubber boots.
At this point, I noticed my one 4 year old girl, kneeling in the mud with some sticks. I went over to talk to her, to make sure she was okay. What I found, reinforced my belief that we must, as teachers, get children outside. She was building a campfire. No, not a real one with flames and dangerous sparks, but this creative mind was trying to bend and balance sticks on top of each other to make a dome for her campfire. Slowly other children came over to check her campfire out, and the collaboration began. Bricks of frozen mud were chiseled out of the ground to support the wood, rocks were brought in from the gravel pit, and eventually 3 different campfire sites were created by these fabulous minds. No, not every child was engaged in this, but the others had discovered that you could create a gravel angel by lying in the rocks just like you do in the snow. Some were climbing trees, and some were solving the mysteries of why the mud was frozen.
People passed by our school while this 80 minute exploration was occurring. Many probably saw children playing on a sunny day, and I am sure that some even thought, “Why aren’t they learning?” I honestly believe that the development I witnessed on the lower field that day cannot be replicated in a classroom. It needs the room, the fresh air and the freedom to explore that outside affords. I witnessed collaboration between students, a bravery to reach out and create with someone they didn’t know very well. I heard language and vocabulary that I didn’t know these students of mine had. I saw negotiations, reasoning and engineering achievements. And all of this simply grew on a field of frozen grass and mud, beside a bunch of gravel and a few big trees.