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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

All Day Outside

Exploring a winter creek
It's another beautiful Monday in Vermont and 30 first grade students are getting ready for a day in Hubbard Park. Each backpack carries a lunch, a water bottle, and a hand crafted mini sled. Every hand, head, foot, and mind is properly prepared for the day ahead. And, yes,...it's February. The outside temperature has climbed to 28 degrees and students are carrying thermometers and a plethora of questions that were generated during morning meeting.

Thermometers in action
How cold is it outside? What is the temperature of the river? Can penguins survive in Hubbard Park? Penguins as we know, do not live in Vermont. But to these first graders at Union Elementary, it is a hot topic because they have been studying penguins through a new math curriculum. Along with penguin math, the students have also been discussing properties of matter and force and motion. What better learning scenario than a day outside in winter? They will encounter a river, a pond, and a mysterious creek moving under ice. A half inch of fresh snow and a layer of hard packed snow turned ice, adds another medium to study. Icicles, frozen puddles, and melting snow under a February sun. We have found the ultimate science laboratory outdoors in the capitol city!

Taking the temperature of the North Branch River

Custom made sled for Piggy
 The concepts of  force and motion is easy enough to experience first hand by sliding bodies down an incline. But, why not construct your own mini-sled with cardboard, plastic, paper, popsicle sticks, and duct tape? Now that's a motivational button for learning! Build your own sled for your favorite small animal or cartoon character. After a few test runs on a carefully groomed surface, children were reconstructing their sleds with more duct tape and objects found close by.
"Hey Amy! I'm gonna tape my water bottle to this sled! Then watch out for how fast it's gonna be!"
Now that's force and motion, first grade style.

Mini sled with jet propellers and a plow
   The day sailed on in a mixture of sun, laughter, snow, idea sharing, questions, tons of observations, and new conclusions. Slow learning is good learning, for it allows for assimilation. This ECO day was planned so that children could move in between "science stations" which offered different degrees of stimuli and multiple ways to be a participant. It may not look slow with all these excited bodies scurrying about, but really,.. it is. All these outdoor provisions that helped to create a day of learning ultimately guided every child to follow their own interests and needs through inquiry based learning. In the end, children experience independence, self organization, participation, and empowerment.

That's 10 am to 2:45pm. No need to go back into the school building today.
We closed our day by having a  sharing circle on the snow covered lawn of Kellogg Hubbard Library.
" What were you most thankful for today?" the teachers asked. Here is what the children shared:

"I am thankful for,....my mini sled because it went fast, the birds singing, being outside, the frozen water that I broke, the fire because it got me warm, my mom, my dad, my teacher, penguins, my friends, nature, the earth and,...I'm just thankful for the whole day!"

All day. Outside. Something to be truly thankful for.

The community is our classroom


  1. This is learning at its best! So thankful there are teachers that think outside (the box)!

  2. Hi Amy, nice blog and I feel blessed to be a part of nature and being able to share it with the kids. Thanks for taking us out for a full day. See you soon.

  3. well said! Thanks for being you and promoting outside learning. That was truly a wonderful day!

  4. Great day, Amy. Your enthusiasm for nature and outdoor learning is infectious!