Taking learning outside and bringing the outside learning inside - Saskatoon Public Schools Foundation
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Taking learning outside and bringing the outside learning inside

There is a buzz in the air as Buena Vista School’s youngest learners gather in front of the school to make the 2km round trip trek to one of their favorite learning spaces by the river, Gabriel Dumont Park.  This adventure is a natural part of their school experience.  These early learners not only take their learning to a variety of natural and urban outdoor spaces, but they are also developing a deep connection to a place where they belong.  As they explore their community, they are becoming deeply connected to the land on which they learn, play and grow.

“Cotton Candy!” one child exclaimed when asked what clouds are made of.  The Pre-K class have been learning about clouds and at the riverbank they finally get to observe firsthand the clouds that look like cotton candy, after a string of overcast days.  They sit upon their foam mats and carefully unpack their backpack to retrieve their snack, when they finish up they know where to throw their garbage. These three and four-year-olds are learning not only about the world around them but how to be independent while gaining a connection to their community.

The kindergarten class takes a turn off the main trail, today they are going to explore in a more “wild” space.  These five and six-year-olds are confident in their own balance and strength as they make their way down the steep hill, through many bushes and over fallen trees as they navigate their way to today’s learning space.  Their teacher shares with them an abandoned bird’s nest from last year’s hatch. This leads into a conversation about the important role a nest plays in the life cycle of a bird, what is a nest built with, where is a good place to build a nest, and what other animals use nests.  After the lesson, these Kindergarteners are set free to explore, fresh in their minds the budding signs of spring.  Using binoculars and magnifying glasses to get an up-close view of the animals and plants that inhabit the gully.  They are inspired with a sense of wonder as they are learning about the natural world around them.

“When are we going to that park by the water again?”  says a new student, after just one trip to Gabriel Dumont, he had made a connection with his new school and community.  Being visually impaired has not stopped this student from experiencing the seasonal changes as we transition from winter to spring.  Alongside his classmates, they can feel the warm spring sun and smell the damp wet earth, listen to the running water as the ice melts.  They use large child-friendly magnifying glasses to look for signs of growth and explore the few remaining patches of late winter snow “It looks like crystals!” one student shrieks with delight.  They have observed how there are different types of snow, can describe the different attributes, as well as find the best patch for practicing number sentences. These Grade One students have an intimate knowledge of the changing seasons in this place because they have engaged with this space by the river on an almost weekly basis. 

As the river shifts from the still winter ice into the active summer flow, students will be able to explore how the living organisms that call the river home adapt as the seasons change, with the use of pond dip nets and magnifying bug catchers.  Closer to home they are able to watch living things develop as they learn how to nurture living things as they grow and crawl around in the school garden.

Taking learning outside and bringing the outside learning inside has been the focal point of student learning in the newly opened PreK to Grade One Outdoor focus program at Buena Vista School.  With support from the Programs of Excellence grant that is supported by the Saskatoon Public School Foundation, we have access to tools to put into students’ hands that inspire wonder and curiosity to engage them in their learning.  These resources directly connect students to the land on which they learn, play and grow.