On a lovely fall afternoon walk around the neighborhood, I am enjoying the crisp air and crunchy yellow leaves underfoot. People are outside savoring the day, perhaps because we know that we will be fighting snow piles and windchills all too soon. Along the boulevard, where a tree had been removed, a child is looking at the mushrooms growing from the roots underground. Her mom waves from the porch.
“Cool mushrooms,” I say to the girl, who looks to be around nine.
“They are eating up the roots and turning them into dirt,” she explains in a very earnest voice. “See the little pockets underneath? Those are gills, and they send spores out to make more mushrooms!”
“How neat is that?” I say this because I am impressed at her knowledge and enthusiasm for sharing it. “You know a lot about mushrooms!”
“Yeah, but even more about dirt. I know that all these pretty leaves will help make more dirt too. And that worms and ants are good for garden soil.”
“Where did you learn all that?”
“From my teacher. We went to a nature center and collected worms, ants, leaves, and mushrooms. Then we took old logs, and put them all in a plastic tub. We grew dirt!”
Mom has wandered down to join the conversation. “Her teacher takes them to an outside classroom,” she explains. “Once a week—rain, sleet, or sun!”
“It’s fun except for the mud,” the girl adds. “But math days are the best!”
Math days at the outside classroom? I am intrigued. “What makes math days the best?”
“Geometry is everywhere. It’s easier to get it when you see it growing, not in a book.”
She rattles off a litany of geometry applied at the nature center. Concentric circles of tree roots. Parallel pairs of leaves, triangular notches on leaves, branching trunks, and branching veins on leaves. Why spiders need eight legs to balance on a web instead of six. The angle of the sun telling the time of day. How the bricks fit together to make the sidewalk around the nature center.
“And then there is the chemistry stuff too, like how leaves rot into dirt.”
Clearly this girl loves that outside classroom. Her enthusiasm has drawn two older kids over to listen. I excuse myself and chat with the mom for a few minutes, and we listen as the younger child shares everything she knows about mushrooms and dirt with the older kids.
“She has an amazing teacher,” Mom says. “Nobody ever got her excited about learning before.”
I say good-bye, but the girl has one more thought to share. “I can hardly wait for snow! We get to look at snowflakes under an outdoor microscope, so they don’t melt!”
I am looking at the branching trees, thinking about her teacher. Her reach is stretching out, shining through the students she has enthused for learning.
How do you use outdoor experiences as part of your teaching?
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Get Out: 150 Easy Ways for Kids and Grown-Ups to Get Into Nature and Build a Greener Future by Judy Molland
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