British Columbia

Vancouver teacher praises benefits of taking kids outside of classroom to learn

Elementary school teacher Cara Laudon says the pandemic is the perfect time to move lessons outdoors.

Cara Laudon says the pandemic is the perfect time to move more lessons outdoors

A B.C. teacher says moving classes outside during the pandemic may offer students an opportunity to learn old lessons in new ways. (Brooklyn Currie/CBC)

The school playing field may not be just for gym class and recess anymore.

When kids return to school, at least one B.C. teacher says the pandemic is the perfect time for educators to move lessons outside, not only because it could be easier to physically distance than indoors, but also because it may offer opportunities for students to learn old lessons in new ways.

Cara Laudon, an inner city elementary school teacher in Vancouver who is currently working on a graduate degree in environmental education at Simon Fraser University, says a lot of the curriculum taught in the classroom can be taught anywhere.

For example, she suggested, if students are studying geometry, they can practise calculating the perimeter of the school or playground. Or if they are studying the environment, they can learn about water cycles first-hand by exploring their surroundings.

"We talk about the 100 mile diet, we can do 100 foot field trips," Laudon said Tuesday on The Early Edition.

The Cowichan Valley school district's plans for the return to school include an outdoor education program. (Cowichan Valley School District - SD 79/Facebook)

In the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, the local school district has already incorporated some outdoor learning programs into its back-to-school plan.

Further south on the island, Carolyn Howe, a Victoria elementary school teacher and a vice president of the Greater Victoria Teachers' Association, would like to increase opportunities for outdoor learning in that school district as well.

"I would love to see much more support for outdoor learning spaces," said Howe in an interview on On The Island.

She said, ideally, the district would have equipment students could sit on outdoors and methods for transporting supplies safely to and from the classroom.

In Vancouver, Laudon suggests the school board and city staff connect and provide all schools in the district with a list of parks located within walking distance of each individual school.

"We need widespread support from families, from our staff, from our administrators and from the community," said Laudon.

The grades 3 and 4 teacher said outdoor education is free, accessible and can be fun. If some students are unable to afford a rain jacket or waterproof shoes, Laudon said that, in her experience, school communities have been generous at finding ways to equip kids with what they need.

"And depending on the age of your students, you know,  they don't mind getting wet. They're not made of sugar," she said.

The idea of outdoor learning was recently suggested in a report released by Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. 

Hilary Inwood, head of the Environmental and Sustainability Education Initiative at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, said besides helping reduce the spread of COVID-19, learning outside also provides the benefit of physical movement.

But she said it's unreasonable to expect inner-city schools to be able to hold class outdoors all day because of the limited size of some schoolyards. A rotation-based approach would work best, Inwood said.

To hear the complete interview with Cara Laudon on The Early Edition, tap here.

With files from The Early Edition, The Current, On The Island


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