When you imagine a classroom, what do you see? Desks facing a board, kids doing worksheets, maybe a few laptops… Kindergarten teacher Nicole Haas sees it a little differently.
“The classroom is wherever we are. A lot of what we do is Inquiry Based — kids drive what we do, and that includes taking learning outdoors.”
Haas has been teaching an indoor/outdoor Kindergarten program at Lighthouse Christian Academy for two years, and taught outdoor afternoons with the Grade 3/4 class before that. Now she’s developing resources to help teachers of older grades at LCA take advantage of the school’s forested property. Not only is outdoor learning helpful for slowing the spread of COVID-19, it’s also good for mental and physical health.
“It’s not as simple as ‘learning inside, play outside.’ We’re constantly adapting, and incorporating play-based learning into everything we do.”
The natural world nurtures physical and mental health
“We’ve been encouraged by new research about the Japanese concept of ‘forest bathing’ or ‘forest therapy,’” says LCA principal Karen Daniels. “Incorporating outdoor learning into all our classes is important for physical safety due to COVID-19, and also for mental health. Stepping into our forest allows staff and students to decompress — all of the things that are difficult can melt away.”
Haas knows child-led outdoor learning takes a lot of adjustment, so she focuses a lot on social and emotional learning at the beginning of the year.
“We build up self-regulation strategies so students can figure out from a young age what they want to be working on and how they can do that appropriately, no matter where we are.”
Students learn to notice the weather, and consider how it will make them feel. They get better at putting rain gear on and off so they’re able to transition in and out through the day. They learn to make choices, take risks and work with others. Through it all Haas underlines little lessons — sometimes as a group and sometimes one-on-one — to help everyone succeed.
“Play is so valuable, and necessary in a child’s development. If a kid needs a bit of a nudge, give them a challenge: what lives under the soil? Let’s go down to the creek and see what floats and what sinks. Can we tell a story with these rocks?”
All LCA classes use a mixture of free play, structured play, child-led and adult-led learning. Even in older grades, instilling curiosity and creativity helps improve engagement and knowledge-retention. Incorporating the forest and creek on the LCA grounds into daily science, math, arts, history and social lessons is part of the school’s innovative, child-first approach.
Learn more about enrolling for September 2021 at lcawestshore.com/admissions, then book a tour by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 250-474-5311. Follow the school on Facebook and Instagram for the latest updates!