This is the 24th in a series of articles from the staff of the Nature & Wildlife Discovery Center that will provide resources, ideas, and suggestions for families during the COVID-19 pandemic. Watch for future articles with outdoor activity ideas for students and families. The public can help the nonprofit NWDC get through this challenging time by making a donation at https://hikeandlearn.org/donate-covid-19-pandemic-relief/. Join NWDC for guided hikes and other exciting nature programs listed here: https://hikeandlearn.org/programs-and-events/.
By Jasmine Shepherd
As we transition out of summer, schools in Pueblo have reopened for the fall semester, and education has taken on a new form as a result of COVID-19. Classes for children and adults now feature a variety of settings – some in a physical classroom with masks and social distancing, some based entirely online, and some newly homeschooled as parents weigh the risks of sending their little ones to class amid a pandemic agains the benefits of in-person education and socialization. Educators are acting fast to put together brand new curricula that will successfully engage students to learn during these unprecedented and stressful times. While much of what teachers and administrators are planning combines online education with traditional class structure, some experts are recommending that we move education outdoors for the benefit of the students.
One of the most notable voices in the camp for outdoor education is that of the now famous Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In a Facebook Live broadcast, Fauci’s suggestion for educators of all kinds was to “Get as much outdoors as you can. If you look at the superspreader events that have occurred, they’re almost always inside.” In the same speech, he pointed out that the major outbreaks have occurred at nursing homes, meatpacking warehouses, prisons, weddings, and other indoor-based social events. So how do our educators, both seasoned professionals and parents new to homeschooling/distance learning, successfully bring education outside to enrich their children’s learning experience and decrease the risk of infectious disease? As it so happens, the Internet is rich with resources explaining how to do just that!
The Cornell Lab offers a great list of tips for teachers and youth leaders to successfully engage groups of K-12 students outdoors (https://www.birds.cornell.edu/k12/outdoor-teaching-tips/).
Planning ahead, setting firm safety guidelines, using the scientific method, and engaging “stealth mode” (quiet, active observation – as quiet as a mouse!) to encourage nature to come to you, are among the recommended tips. In addition, leaders can utilize technology (and the convenient mobility of smartphones) to their advantage to help turn the unknowns of nature into teachable moments.
Outdoortopia suggests ways to engage students with hands-on learning that reinforces traditional learning done inside the classroom (https://www.outdoortopia.org/post/top-10-tips-for-outdoor-environmental-teaching). Don’t get hung up on a set plan, as nature is unpredictable, and the ability to adapt will better serve the students and the lesson. Engage all the senses during class – what can students see, smell, hear and feel as they explore the tiniest to the largest elements of the natural world around them? Follow the three R’s: Relate outdoor learning to indoor lessons,
Reinforce understanding of larger environmental concepts, and reward students for participating!
For parents wanting to enhance an online or homeschool curriculum by taking their kids outside, Edutopia has compiled a list of six excellent resources for hands-on, DIY ideas for outdoor education (https://www.edutopia.org/blog/outdoor-education-ideas-matt-davis). This list includes renowned resources such as Project Learning Tree, National Wildlife Federation, SciStarter, and Education Outside.
If you are a teacher or a homeschool/distance learning parent and aren’t sure how to incorporate outdoor learning into your child(ren)’s curriculum, Nature & Wildlife Discovery Center is here to help! Starting in October, we will be offering a new outdoor education program on Fridays, which will be available to classes, homeschool groups, and individuals. We also offer custom guided hikes at our River Campus in Pueblo and our Mountain Park Campus in Beulah, as well as private Raptor Center tours and birds of prey presentations that feature live hawks, owls, falcons and vultures. Follow our social media for regular updates at https://www.facebook.com/nwdcco/ or reach out to our program director at email@example.com to find out about pricing and schedule a nature adventure for your kiddos!
Jasmine Shepherd is a Colorado native and the sales and marketing coordinator at Nature & Wildlife Discovery Center. She was raised in Pueblo and has been hiking and biking the trails at both of NWDC’s campuses since her childhood. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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