OPINION: Pandemic ushers in opportunity to take learning outside

COMMUNITY COMMENT

Frederick Frobel, a German educator, founded the concept of kindergarten in the 1830s. Following philosophical points of view from French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others, Frobel stressed the emotional and spiritual nature of the child, encouraging self-understanding through play activities and greater freedom, rather than following scripted presentations of adult ideas.

He believed that children aged four to six, often in outdoor settings, should be engaged in more play rather than taught to understand lessons that would squelch their natural curiosity. As I am sure all of us recognize, children of this age are naturally curious and their ability to grasp concepts of nature are particularly noteworthy. Frobel was an early advocate for outside learning and “Garden of Children” is an important concept in modern education and will likely become even more relevant as a result of the pandemic.

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I don’t want to call this the “new normal.” I would like to say it is the way it should be.

Renowned master educator Andy Hargreaves wrote a list of lockdown points, obvious and otherwise, that give insight into how to proceed with current challenges. In the April 7, 2020 Washington Post, Hargreaves offered one particularly notable observation that will likely have greater importance in newly adapted educational models: “More play, less work, might actually be a good direction to take in these unique circumstances.” Definitely worth a read at https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/04/07/complete-list-what-do-not-do-everyone-teaching-kids-home-during-coronavirus-crisis/.

Sam Cartwright-Hatton, professor of clinical child psychology at the University of Sussex, noted in this Post article, “All the research indicates that children’s emotional health is suffering in the lockdown and it seems likely that this suffering will, in many cases, continue into the long term. We are urging ministers and policymakers to ensure that children are afforded substantial, and if possible enhanced, access to high-quality play opportunities as soon as possible.”

Educators, school districts, governments and, of course, families are struggling to figure all of this out. A test run beginning next week will ultimately provide valuable information as to what will work and what won’t for a return in the fall.

Learning outside is fun for kids. I am convinced that a formula will be developed not only for young learners, but for all learners. School farms and school grounds have plenty of space and access to natural landscapes that can easily adapt to curriculum. Botany, lots of math and lots of other aspects of science and art are all readily available in the outside environment.

This, of course, is not to say that classroom learning should be abandoned, and that would likely never be the case. Rather, outside learning affords an opportunity to problem solve in a complementary localized school neighbourhood environment.

Current health guidelines, including social distancing, may be better met in open space surroundings which, luckily, are in abundance on most school properties in Delta.

In the midst of such complexity and uncertainty, I wish parents, educators and mostly our community’s children the best of luck over the coming weeks.

Mike Schneider is founder of Project Pickle and likes to write about growing, cooking and eating food. He is a Jamie Oliver Food Revolution ambassador.

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