The beautiful weather at the moment is simply dragging me outside. I have no control over it! If my children want to stay indoors, too bad! Luckily, there is so much outdoor learning to do! Plus, most outdoor learning is inquiry-based, which suits my curious children and, let’s face it, most curious children.
Learning outdoors is a great way to bring science to life! Using Inquiry Learning, you can teach children how to investigate and track experiments, or how to satisfy their curiosity and questions. Why study a picture of a plant when you can watch one grow? You can also observe the eco-system that surrounds it, like the insects, ideal habitat, weather conditions and other factors that affect it.
Having just taught plants and soils whilst ‘Learning from Home’, Inquiry Learning is very much on my mind. Plants and soils are an important part of the science curriculum and so fun to teach; this topic is also a natural choice as we plant our summer gardens. As I sent my grade 3/4 students home with at-home learning packages at the start of the pandemic, I wondered how to teach this unit from a distance. So much of learning about plants and soils is hands-on and many of my students don’t have access to gardens.
My student teacher had the wonderful idea of sending the students home with a couple of bean seeds and a soil pod.
They were asked to plant their seed in a recycled container and followed along as we grew plants, discovering what plants needed through firsthand experience. The Root Vue Farm helped us see how deep and far-reaching roots of a plant are and what happens under the soil as plants grow. Using the app Seesaw, we were able to share videos and photos of our plants, and students were also able to share and add to their online portfolio.
If you have younger children, you can simplify the lesson by checking in each day, seeing the changes, and discussing the plant’s growth, giving opportunities for rich language learning. Children see things that we do not notice and can have lots of fun while developing observation skills. This can easily be applied to your backyard garden, where you can also observe how plants and insects interact with each other. Something as simple as a bee can initiate a lengthy discussion:
“What colour is the bee?”
“Where is the bee going?”
“What is it doing?”
“Where do bees live?”
“How do bee’s fly?”
This is the perfect opportunity to jump into bee research, arts and crafts, flight experiments, pollen-collecting dances, flight of the bumblebee music and the list goes on. It can even cover endangered species and eco-systems for older students!
Child lead inquiry is one of the many skills that ECE’s excel at. We teachers often get bogged down with the need to cover learning objectives and sometimes miss the beautiful opportunities provided by child lead inquiry. Whilst inquiry is guided heavily by adults in the early years, it does not make the process any less valid. Children are learning to answer their own questions.
Whatever method of planning we use, backward design or inquiry, our job as educators is teaching children how to learn for themselves. Learning to be learners is their most important and job and the outdoors is the perfect playground to gather questions!
Written by Chris, a middle school teacher in Manitoba