February: the month of snow days and spring days
Cruising around on the old Facebook yesterday, I scrolled across the timeline of a former parent of mine who was relating a story about her wonderfully odd and precocious daughter. She was one of my favorite kids from my classroom days to be sure. Actually, the entire family is. But for the sake of “privacy,” we won’t tell them that, ok? We’ll just pretend that all our relationships are equal, just like we pretend all kids are the same.
That morning, her daughter had mentioned to her how beautiful it was outside and … well … here’s the post:
“Just another day in paradise here in Emporia with a gorgeous, gorgeous morning! On the way to school Brianna told me that kids should not have to go to school on days as beautiful as today. I recall one of my brothers saying something very similar to this when we were kids. If we have snow days and heat days, it seems only fair to take time off for perfect days!”
..Now, I’ve absolutely felt the same way so many times throughout my school career. Did I mention that the majority of my career was spent teaching at the middle level? Yes, you can imagine the days I might’ve dreamt of staying home on a beautiful day. And you can imagine the number of days might’ve increased as “Nature” began to take hold of these budding ‘tweens.
But as I read this friendly Facebook post and felt sorry for the daughter and the obviously heart-aching mom, I noticed two things. I remembered where this girl used to go to school! Heck, we used to go outside for the majority of the day on days like this. I wondered what had happened to that possibility.
Then I noticed something else. I noticed that 13 people (including more than one teacher) had “Liked” the post. I was shocked! All these people were apparently advocating for a day off from school because the weather was nice? As a teacher and as an Edupreneur change-agent, my heart dropped.
I always wanted my kids to want to come to my classroom. To my school. I wanted to create an environment which caused them to pop those eyes open in the morning and be happy about going to school. Yes, even middle schoolers. And if a kid was to get a little discipline-learning in a particular situation, that still never diminished the fact they wanted to come to school. And you know, for the most part and judging by multiple parent reports, I think we were able to achieve that at my former school.
As a teacher, once you recognize this yearning in your kids (or yourself), you have two choices in how you respond to the beautiful day situation.
The two choices:
- You can draw the shades and bring their focus back to what they’re reading. You’ll go home tired, shaking your head and wishing the kids had some self-control. After all, don’t they care that the big test is coming up and shouldn’t they care that they do well? Why do they fight all your good efforts to help them? And the kids will go home hating school just that much more for stealing a beautiful day from their lives.
I’ve been there. I know this inner dialogue well.
But consider a teacher’s second choice:
- You can recognize that instead of fighting the kids and fighting a losing battle against the beautiful days (of which there are plenty–especially and inevitably around testing time), you can roll with the punches and create a deeply memorable, deeply engaging, wonderful day of learning outdoors.
But I have standards I have to teach the kids. It’s hard to keep them under control out there. We were going to watch a movie.
As I thought about the post, I figured I should be able to, spur of the moment, come up with several quality learning activities that could be used outside. And I figured I could come up with a LOT of activities if I used the minds of my Professional Learning Network (PLN).
So I did.
Think about a beautiful spring day as a youth, Kindergarten through High School. Which of the following activities would have been at least an acceptable way to spend the day, if you had to spend it at school?
Note that this list was created on February 1 from people in KS, NY, WI, VA, OR, UT, and IL.
A special thanks goes to assistance from my Plurk PLN for some of these lesson seeds.
What are some EXCITING learning activities that could happen OUTSIDE on a beautiful Feb 1?
1) daydreaming under the big blue sky about the wonders of the biosphere, the troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere?
2) looking at the little creatures crawling along the ground (in minutia) and thinking about what they would be doing under a layer of snow.
3) Writing in our journals about hopes, dreams. and by “journals” I mean “blogs” because our wifi should reach outside the building grounds…
4) writing narrative, based on a personally chosen (or randomly chosen) prompt.
5) Read from our mobile devices about “this day in history” and imagine/write what it would feel like to have been there.
jump in and help, if you’d like
Writing Haikus by scale; tiny (leaf), small (branch), big (tree), Large (yard), etc.
6) for the little kids, practice counting, sorting the “stuff” found outside.
see how warm you get after a 15 minute walk
for the high school classes–identifying trees without the benefit of leaves!
Lots of cardio activities!
Create a solar cooker. or a solar car. Or a solar… you fill in the blank.
12 inch hike; document everything you find in the length of a ruler.
Metric olympic races!
Envision, plan, and build a garden space.
Playground estimation and measurement using steps, hands, arms, somersaults, hops, etc.
Draw a scale map of the world, your country, your state, your county/parish/whatever, your city on the sidewalk or playground concrete.
Sidewalk chalk your favorite African American’s accomplishments/biography.
Make predictions about Groundhog Day.
Plan a Christo style installation and use geometry to figure how much fabric you’ll need, etc.
Create your own exercise routine, using proper biometrics for a given group of participants.
Document patterns anywhere you can find them.
Photography lessons in high-noon lighting.
Create a video about Global Warming!
Hold a debate about Global Warming!
Read biographies about Ansel Adams, John Muir, others.
Learn about the migratory habits of birds, mammals for your area.
Wade in a stream and learn about watersheds, aquaculture.
Wade in a stream and experiment on vectors & force.
Practice naming things in the foreign language you are learning. Practice sentences that pertain to the outdoors and activities.
If signage, billboards, businesses, etc. are visible discuss our visual world & our education, positive & negative, by a so many sources.
Favorite outdoor winter activity with kids: (of course I was somewhat younger) build a snow sculpture, snowmen and spray with colored water.
Use the sidewalk to create a timeline of the history of the Earth with chalk.
Find letters in nature or in playground equipment. Measure the playground, etc. using a measuring system you create. Compare with others.
Create an imaginary world, nation, culture w/ new rules…pretend you’re 5 playing make-believe with friends. Create Utopia or Dystopia.
Look for physical evidence of the passage of time.
Go on a bug hunt.
Look for spring bulbs popping through.
Cloud weather observations and investigations.
Lots of classifying. bugs/ insects/ cars/ trees/
community clean-up service learning.
I used to take my 1st graders outdoors and we would make tally marks of cars that went by.
We used hula hoops and timed groups of kids to see how long it would take for them to step whole body through and recorded data. Then we extrapolated data to calculate how long it would take for a larger group of students – tried it and compared.
What did we miss in our 60 minute brainstorm of quality, standards-based learning, K-12? Did you notice that most of it tended toward Project Based Learning?
Imagine if a team of teachers noticed that it was going to be a beautiful day and they put into place Beautiful Day plans? Families would be notified by the radio and TV news outlets, automated callers, messengers, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts with,
“Today is a Beautiful Day Alert. Parents are encouraged to come to school to learn with their children in our outdoor activities emergency plan. Also, don’t forget to send them to school in play clothes that can get dirty! Repeat, Emergency Beautiful Day Plans are in effect in the following districts…”
That’s it. Who has a school where we can put this plan in action?