Saturday, 21 October 2017

Get Outside and Play!

Get Outside and Play!
                           Picture from:

It's autumn and it's a sensual wonderland out there.  The leaves have put on their brightest and best ball gowns for their last dance of the year, before free falling to crunch beneath our feet.  The colors of the landscape have morphed from the fresh greens of Spring and Summer to the deeper and golden tones of fall: red, brown, yellow, orange.  The songbirds have started their migration to warmer places, but our hardier, year round winged friends like the BlueJays, Crows and Cardinals are still loud and proud, filling the airwaves with their caws and squawking.  Inhale deeply.  It's earthy aromas like a pile of crisp leaves, bright colored mums, and damp soil.  The days are getting shorter, and the sunset comes earlier, but rewards us with a spectacular display in the sky, followed by a Harvest Moon.

I count myself lucky to have grown up on a dirt road and to still live in a rural area. I spent a great deal of time outside as a kid.  My sisters and I built forts, climbed trees, chased rabbits out of the garden, picked wildflowers, explored and raked the leaves into gigantic piles so we could launch ourselves into them, only to have to rake them again.  Of course, there were times when I would be fully absorbed in a new book, and my mother would have to shoo me out the door with her warning: "The weather won't stay nice forever!  Get outside and play!" Now that I'm an adult, I can still hear her saying that in my head, and I put aside the laundry, or the lesson planning or the latest book I don't want to stop reading, and I take my tea in a travel mug, put on my jacket and go for a stroll through leaf covered paths, letting the sounds and sights of fall quiet my inner turmoil and heal my soul.

On one such walk last week, I was thinking about how my students need this connection with nature as much as I do.  I was reflecting on our recent field trip to the Jaffa Outdoor Education Center (@JaffaEEC) near Aylmer, Ontario, and how my mostly urbanite class of students gets such joy from these outings.  Most of them live in the city, many of them in apartments or housing complexes.  Few of them have access to nature other than city parks, sports fields and the small patches of grass around parking lots.  In Elementary School, they have some time outside at recess, but my Secondary School kids spend the day inside and often their only time outside is getting on and off the school bus.

On this trip,  they were scooping up mud from the bottom of the pond and then sifting through it for creatures.  We found snails, tadpoles, bugs and one enormous beetle! 

 We walked the trails through the Carolinian forrest, looking for wildlife.  We saw several types of birds and lots of chipmunks and squirrels.  Alas, our troop was a bit too exuberant to see deer, but we marveled at the canopy of colors above us as we walked, and at the sounds you can hear, when you are far from roads and civilization. Our connection to the curriculum was investigating invertebrates, but my students got so much more from their day outside than just a learning objective.  In the spring we go back to see Mother Nature wake up from her long winter, and to go fishing (catch and release).  When they look back on the school year, these are the days that my students talk about and remember.  

The Thames Valley District School Board has three outdoor Education Centers, staffs them with fantastic Environmental Education Teachers (like Dan Arrpe and Shannon Queen at Jaffa), and even has a fund we can apply to that will help pay for transportation to these sites, as well as Conservation Areas and other places where students can experience Outdoor and Environmental Education.  But even without this support, it is so important to get our students outside.  Call it a math walk, a science exploration, a Historical tour, plant some trees or just getting some exercise. 
 But, Get Outdoors and Play.

That's enough from me for this post.  Winter is coming, but today there's a big pile of leaves in my yard that I want to jump in a few times.

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