on the School Grounds
What is Environmental Inquiry?
Going outside is a tried and true way to spark a child’s natural curiosity. Educators can support student learning by offering a variety of guided, self-guided, and inquiry-based activities. Environmental Inquiry allows students the opportunity to be curious, ask questions and find answers about a topic that interests them while exploring nature. Once the observations and questions have been shared, it shapes the inquiry that students will delve into (either individual or group interests).
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 predetermined 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).