Christina Wild wishes that more teachers felt empowered to go beyond traditional modes of learning. So, she’s co-writing a book about getting outside the classroom—both literally and figuratively.
Christina has some experience teaching outdoors. In August 2016, she took her kindergarten class at Mt. Lebanon School out for their first day of forest kindergarten. They never turned back.
Each Wednesday, Christina’s kindergarten class spends the entire morning in the woods in a teaching model that was developed first in Scandinavia in the 1950s and has recently become popularized in other parts of Europe and in North America.
A typical Wednesday in the Woods, as they call it at Mt. Lebanon, starts with Morning Message that includes advice about what to wear as well as Morning Work to make a plan for the morning.
Also, part of the routine is a gear/clothing check after the children line-up. This allows Christina and her co-teachers to make sure kids are happy with their clothing choices.
Once in the woods, the children follow the schedule of:
- Morning Meeting: A greeting and a check-in
- Offering of activity choices: Some of these are play-based like fort building, boat building, charades, or “mud kitchen”. And some are academic, e.g., looking for tracks in the snow, writing, finding collections of things, and building letters, words, and numbers out of natural objects like sticks.
- Free Playtime. During playtime, an adult helps students cook food over the fire and students can eat their snack from home.
- Closing Circle
- Singing of the Forest Song
- Walk back down to the indoor classroom to journal about the day
“A teacher that served as an informal mentor to me had done a sabbatical in Denmark. Ethel Weinberger didn’t start a forest kindergarten when she got back but she did utilize many components in her classroom. Then last year my principal, Eloise Ginty, suggested starting one at our school.”
Wild and Ginty visited several forest kindergartens in the area. After those visits they knew the model would be right for the Mt. Lebanon School.
“In the spring of 2016, I went to an In Bloom conference hosted by Antioch University New England. That was really helpful in thinking about issues such as risk and liability. Then, in the fall of 2016, I joined the Outdoor Classroom Professional Learning Community put together by ForestKinder, a local organization led by two educators. It was invaluable for practical advice and inspiration from other like-minded teachers.”
“My students are super excited to come to school on our outdoor days. And that enthusiasm makes them want to write and read about the outdoors when we return to the classroom. The joy they experience being outside is pretty wonderful on its own but it has this fabulous ripple effect as well.”
The last year of Christina’s teaching career has been transformative. A few of the things she’s learned along the way include:
- It is important to have staff members who are as enthusiastic as you are about being outside (Because the last thing you need is an adult who’s grumpy about being cold or wet.);
- Set the right tone. Be excited to be out in the rain or cold. Have some humor about wearing your socks pulled over your pants for tick protection;
- Be very mindful that outdoor time makes kids very hungry. Have plans for food;
- Kids outside can be distracted from using the bathroom. Check in often;
- And, as you might imagine, kids tend to get very wet when outdoors. Have plans for what to do about wet clothes.
Christina’s advice for fellow educators? “Even a little bit of outdoor time will yield wonderful things so if you have to start out small just go for it!”