Hills’ kids are outside learning and loving it
Schools offering more outdoor learning opportunities during pandemic
By Hunter Cresswell
Students and staff have had to adapt to the new reality of classroom education during the COVID-19 pandemic, but luckily for some, they’re liking the shift to more outside learning.
Queen Elizabeth Elementary School cycle 2 – that’s eight to 10-year-olds – teacher Naomi Fishman said her school in Kazabazua is uniquely positioned to factor in more outside learning.
“We have a forest that’s surrounding [the campus], so our kids are constantly outside under great big trees,” she said.
Fishman added that support and resources provided to teachers and students from school administrators, support staff and even parents have proved invaluable during this time of flux. One parent, in true rural fashion, donated a set of cut log rounds, which students use as stools while outside in their ‘classroom.’
“We call it stump town,” Fishman said, describing how each student has their own clipboard for writing, binders and bins of learning materials, which they bring with them outside.
She added that the return to school for a few weeks in the fall was a great time for teachers and school staff to find out what new educational techniques worked for students and how to adapt old teaching techniques to the new normal.
The main takeaway, according to Fishman, is that outdoor learning works and there’s less worry since the increased airflow decreases the risk of transmitting COVID-19 on top of other illnesses elementary school children can often come down with.
“Take them outside and you’ll see a difference; they really tune-in,” she said. “Mostly the kids are just so happy to have the surroundings of our forest.”
When not learning in “stump town,” classes are also held on a sidewalk, which students helped paint this past spring, called “the rainbow of hope” because of the inspirational messages and words painted on it.
“We’re also awaiting a tent that will be able to house a number of us,” Fishman added.
That idea came from Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary School principal David McFall in Hull, who bought large event tents – the 40-by-20 foot ones sometimes rented for outdoor weddings or other events – for outdoor learning opportunities at his school. That attracted the interest of Gatineau Hills administrators who have followed suit.
“Chelsea [Elementary School] has purchased a tent and it will go up with support from the [Western Québec] school board to ensure it is safe and follows building guidelines,” Chelsea Elementary School principal Andrea Gage wrote in an email on Sept. 14. “Currently the weather has been so beautiful that the classes are outside without the need for a tent,” she added, saying that students have been busy building benches for outdoor learning.
Wakefield Elementary School principal Julie Fram-Greig said staff and students have been focused on new routines and making people comfortable over the past few weeks.
“We did purchase tents, however, we need to hear from the board about any liability in having this kind of a structure in the yard. Our Grade 6 classes worked with Alan Earwaker, the board’s outdoor education consultant, to build 10 wooden benches for outdoor use. It was a wonderful project and we look forward to using these outdoors in the coming months,” she wrote in an email on Sept. 15.
On top of the tent and benches, the heritage Fairbairn House across the bridge reached out to the school about making space available for Wakefield Elementary to use for learning and daycare, Fram-Greig added.
While outdoor learning is all well and good for now, this is Canada and the question remains about what schools will do once the temperature drops below zero.
“Outdoor learning happens every year at our school, even more so now,” Fishman said about winter outdoor education.
Queen E. has a stock of snowshoes and cross-country skis for students to use and they’re sure to see increased use this winter. Fishman said teachers are constantly brainstorming strategies for outdoor learning in the winter as well.
“There’s always outdoor projects on the go,” she added.