When I first started writing Playing With Sticks, I had hopes that it would inspire or encourage teachers to find feasible ways of taking their students outside. Unfortunately, I did not do a very good job of addressing the difficulties that one can face when attempting to do this. I addressed safety concerns and spoke a little bit about parent concerns, but I never addressed accessibility to a forested area, or alternative locations.
Only recently have I become aware of this again … and it was only for selfish reasons. As human beings – innate with faults – we begin to take things that we should be extremely grateful for, for granted. My mother taught me that in life we are given circumstances to teach us lessons, to open up our minds to other possibilities, and to appreciate what we have been given. I continue to feel an overflowing amount of gratitude for what I have been given through my very short teaching career (can you call it a career after only three years?); however, I definitely did not feel gracious enough for the forest just off of the school grounds. I definitely took our forest for granted.
After much reflection I have decided that every teacher, and definitely every child, should have the possibility of taking a natural, outdoor play area (not just a field of grass) for granted. Of course, I also hope that they come to a place of great appreciation for it … like I have … finally.
Over the past few months I have been pondering schoolyards. I quickly came to realize that there are few schools that are suitable for running a successful, consistent primary grade outdoor program. These are my questions that lead me to this decision:
- Does the school have access to a forest/beach/garden on school property? (What school has access to a beach on school grounds? If anyone knows of one, let me know. I’ll be there in a wink).
- Does the school administrator show support for outdoor programs? If not, are they willing to support the program if they are informed of the benefits?
- Do the parents show support for outdoor programs? If not, will they be supportive if they are informed of the benefits?
- If the school does not have an outdoor play area on school property, is there an area nearby that is suitable? (Is it safe? Is it accessible? Is it public property/private property? Oh, the many questions that must be asked…)
- If the location is off site, will you need a permission form every time you venture out to the location? What happens when only one child does not return their form? Do you cancel the trip to the site?
- If the off site location is safe and accessible, how many parents will be needed to walk to the site and supervise the children while you do the teaching?
- If parents are needed, does the school have a history of large parent volunteer numbers? (Will you get enough parents to volunteer?)
- If parents volunteer, what do you do if a parent cannot show up one day? Do you cancel the trip to the site?
- The teacher and the many parent volunteers will have to create a common vision, or the benefits of the program may be compromised.
It is so very unfortunate that there are few schools, geographically speaking, that promote taking children outside. It is so very unfortunate that in order to build schools we knock down forests and meadows to construct buildings of bland concrete. We lay blacktop where fields of dandelions once were. We uproot trees to make parking lots and insert sterile, metal playgrounds. Sometimes when I walk into a school I feel that I have entered a sterile hospital and once I even felt like I had entered a prison. We teach our children, the future of our communities, in sterile, uninspiring environments. We hide them away in rooms far removed from nature. When they are taught about nature they are shown videos, pictures, or look in books … when the real world is simply on the other side of the thick re-bar and concrete wall.
Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the mountains and the stars up above. Let them look at the beauty of the waters and the trees and flowers on earth. They will then begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.
– David Polis