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This North Shore class spent all week learning outside and the benefits are shining through

·3 min read

With bright blue skies and sunshine all week, one North Shore teacher decided to change things up and embarked on a week of outdoor classes.

West Bay Elementary teacher Amy Flett and her Grade 6 class of 27 students took on a challenge to be 100 per cent outdoors last week, and she believes the benefits are already shining through.

Flett, a passionate outdoor educator, said she was inspired to make the change after a morning meeting “turned into a 20- to 30-minute conversation about COVID” which brought with it an increased stress level and anxiety for all.

“It seemed to be all-consuming,” she said, adding that she spontaneously decided to kick off Monday’s first lesson outside which spiralled into a whole week.

“They were laughing and smiling. Many of the students were like, ‘Do we have to go back in? Can we stay out here?’ And then that kind of extended our conversation. OK, let's try it all day today. And then by the end of the day, it was like, 'Can we do this all week?'"

And, so they did. For the rest of the week, students eagerly set up portable tables and chairs to keep their outdoor classroom going. While the COVID-19 pandemic is one reason to get outside, Flett said outdoor learning was important for a number of reasons.

“It really goes to the physical and mental health of people these days, we're so often on screens and indoors and we're really losing a connection to a sense of joy, a sense of freedom, a sense of play that happens outside,” she said.

“I think that that's what kids need these days, is to be in a place where they can take a safe risk and run down a hill and maybe roll at the bottom or something and know that they're going to be OK. It’s a level of control that they can have in their space in life, in a world that seems so large and so out of control. Being outside kind of grounds us to help move our bodies, which we need so much, but also allows our mental space to breathe, to play, to laugh.”

Flett said the outdoor classroom might very well become a regular thing, with students asking to stay outside.

“They're excited to be out there and if they want to continue, then that's the journey we'll take,” she said, adding that the principal and parents had been supportive.

On top of it making students happier, Flett said the outdoor environment had also helped some students’ focus and engagement.

“Some of my reluctant learners, whether it's for math, or reading or anything like that. I really saw some of them shining in this time outside, just their ability to dive in and get started. There's a huge difference. So, that is inspiring to me to see.”

Mila Heran, a student in the class, said the outdoor classroom was "fun and relaxing during learning and especially reading time."

"It felt fresh and it cleared my mind," she said. "We explored more outdoor activities during Wilderness Wednesday, including watering- plants and pulling out ivy and other weeds. It felt good to be deeper in nature."

Flett said the class had already inspired other teachers at the school to take their students outside, and she was hoping the trend would catch on across the North Shore.

“I’m seeing more and more classes outside,” she said. “It's obviously beautiful weather. So, there's probably a correlation there. But the community feels excited about being outside.

“If this could trickle through to other schools, and more kids could be outside experiencing the freedom of the fresh air and the reduced anxiety that can offer – that’d be the goal.”

Elisia Seeber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Shore News