Going outside is a tried and true way to spark a child’s curiosity. When given the time and space to engage in freely chosen, intrinsically motivated learning activities, children are engaged and uncover learning in a deep and meaningful ways.
As a first step in bringing students outside and into nature, teachers may feel more comfortable starting with more focused learning activity. A learning trail is one such activity, where educators and students explore a “trail” on the school grounds through the lens of a pre-determined learning goal. They can focus on the natural or built environment and can be led by either teachers or students. The type of learning trail chosen depends on the needs of students and curriculum expectations. There are three main types: guided, self-guided, and inquiry trails.
Learning trails on the school grounds provide an authentic opportunity for students to look, notice, explore, discover, question and investigate the natural environment. For example, a “Listening Walk” in any environment is a great jumping off point to get children looking (“I see…”), thinking (“This reminds of…”), and wondering outside. Once the observations and questions have been shared, they shape inquiries that students will delve into (either individual or group interests).
Types of Learning Trails (click on link)
The Role of the Adult
The adult trusts that children are naturally interested and will be moved to experiment, build, create, make observations, etc. The role of professional educator then becomes one of a facilitator, observing the child while engaging in rich talk with students. Asking them about their play or built structures and teasing out their knowledge and understanding of the BIG IDEAS in the curriculum, provides an opportunity to capture their learning and thinking in a very real and authentic way.
The Benefits of Nature-Based Learning
Nature-Based Learning allows students the opportunity to be curious, ask questions, and find answers about topics that interests them while exploring outside and in nature. Yet many students have limited access to wild outdoor spaces where they can engage in free, unstructured play and learning outside. Through a collaborative research project with the University of Ottawa Faculty of Education, we have documented how educating the whole child (heart, mind and body) through free play with risks, has had a positive impact on student achievement. This evidence dovetails with our school board's goal of educating the whole student.