Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lens on Outdoor Learning

Lens On Outdoor Learning, Wendy Banning and Ginny Sullivan, Redleaf 2011

I sat down to leaf through this book as my kids took their bath, but found myself up long after they had gone to sleep reading. The authors use an engaging tone that puts you in the leaf pile with the children. They easily move from educational doctrine to explaining children playing in a river.

The authors go through each standard used by national educational systems. Through stories and amazing photography, the authors show how it is experienced in the outdoors. They provide the following for each standard: an introduction, overview, pragmatic view, applied view, experiencing the standard in the outdoors and further reflection.

While I thought this book would be only applicable to those being evaluated by principals or for certification, I was quite wrong. I enjoyed seeing how simple play by a child actually can be transformed into learning opportunities. Rather than setting up structured plans for engagement, the children's own behavior guides the learning. When the children find a dead bird, the teacher answers questions and allows the children to find their own answers with gentle guidance. They emphasize letting the children initiate the lessons.

They describe the "umbrella approach" and use the example of a lesson on gardening. A picture shows some children planting while others dig worms, examine an old potato, and others use paint to make a sign. I love the freedom of introducing a broad concept and allowing the children to explore it in their own. The authors stress that by using the standards in a different way, "curious and engaged" learners are created.

I especially enjoyed the section on the standard of risk taking, respect and confidence. The authors describe how children learn to climb snowy inclines, interact in a sandbox scuffle and negotiate an outdoor playscape. Instead of the teacher tuning out and relaxing, she can observe progress children make in the standards.

I felt energized after reading this book and I am not a teacher. It made me change the way I think of my children playing. I am trying to find learning experiences in simple activities and allow them to search out answers. The authors indicate they hope the book can help "unlock the potential of the outdoors" and they certainly have for me.

This is a beautiful book. The pictures of the children are amazing and their accompanying stories are wonderful. I would love to open a nature preschool and this book would be as useful for me as for a teacher working in an urban school. Instead of a textbook, it shows a new way to think about education.

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