*Note: This is the second post in a series that looks at Imaginative Ecological Education practices with my Kindergarten students. As part of an Action Research, I designed a few activities with the intent of increasing Activeness among my students (Judson, 2015). Click here to read about my students’ experience creating “nature’s perfume”.
On this particular day, I had planned a nature walk to a park several blocks from the school. I spent weeks planning this walk. I strategically planned my students’ walking partners and organized parent volunteers. I carefully planned the route and walked it through twice on my own ahead of time. I created and printed a coloured scavenger hunt sheet. I thought I had it all figured out. The walk was scheduled for Valentine’s Day in the afternoon: my first mistake. My students came to school with chocolates, cupcakes and lollipops for all and displayed the emotions that come along with their first experience of Valentine’s Day in elementary school. The afternoon arrived and, loaded with sugar, we lined up in preparation for our walk.
I won’t recount the whole afternoon, but I’ll give you the highlights: a walk that took me 15 minutes, took my class 30. Despite multiple warnings of the lack of washrooms, one girl peed her pants and as she was wearing pink tights, there was an obvious wet patch all down the side of her legs. Another girl got a blister from her rubber boots and a parent had to run around asking strangers for Band-Aids because I failed to bring a first aid kit. We arrived at an open field and the students just went wild; they were running all over the place, climbing on rocks and on the walk back, they were walking off the sidewalk onto the road and stepping on people’s lawns. It was a nightmare. I was surprised because when confined by the walls of my classroom, my class is generally very well behaved. Needless to say, at the end of the day I felt discouraged, incompetent, and embarrassed and I was seriously considering changing my Action Research topic to something indoors, like reading.
After some serious self-reflection, many conversations with colleagues, reading a variety of books on outdoor education, and attending a Pro-D session with an ecological education focus, I felt so strongly about the importance of connecting students to the natural world that I made a list of all my mistakes and sketched out an improvement plan for the next walk. The next week, I decided, I would take them to a closer park, for a shorter period of time, earlier in the day, and have them do a simple activity that engages the body. Prior to the date, I spent lots of time in the class reviewing expectations and sent an email out to parents the day before asking them to go over certain expectations with their child. On the morning of the walk, I was feeling anxious. Flashbacks of the previous week’s events were creeping up in my mind and I feared as soon as we stepped off school ground my students would turn into wild animals.
I lined them up in partners and we walked, entirely on the sidewalk, for about 10 minutes to a nearby park. We stopped in an open space and I identified the boundaries with them. It was snowing, so we began with an activity to warm up our senses. We took a deep breath to smell the ocean air, rubbed our hands together to feel the warmth, cupped our hands around our ears and listened to the wind. My students were engaged and attentive. I explained that we would be doing an activity to help us warm up our sense of sight. I gave each pair of students a paint chip with several shades of the same colour and asked them to match their chip colour as closely as possible with something natural (WildBC, 2009).
They were excited about the activity and were running around yelling things like “Madame, the dead grass est orange!” and “J’ai trouvé vert!” (I found green!) and “Madame this brown matches the dog poo exactly”. They ran around matching up their colours for several minutes, running back to me to get new paint chips if they were done. I blew my whistle and they all came running in and we discussed what colours were easy to find (brown, green, gray), which ones were more challenging (red, purple, pink) and how it might be different if we were to return in the summer or spring.
They lined up and we walked back to the school without a foot off the sidewalk. I was relieved.
Judson, G. (2015) Engaging imagination in ecological education: Practical strategies for teaching.Vancouver, B.C.: UBC Press.
WildBC. (2009). Get Outdoors!: An Educator’s Guide to Outdoor Classrooms. Victoria: WildBC.