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Meeting Kids Where They Are Through Outdoor Education

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Do you remember going on field trips when you were in school? I remember. I remember thinking that it was fun, but I wasn’t always sure if I had learned anything. The ones where I could tell you what I learned were packed with relevancy and time to explore as a young learner. Taking a field trip to take a field trip is one thing, but if we want to provide authentic learning opportunities for all learners, shouldn’t we question the purpose of them, and shouldn’t we check into the quality that those organizations are promising to provide? Because field trips are few and far between for a lot of learners, criteria to examine for is the degree by which they develop equity and a personalized experience for each learner.

In Navigating the Future of Learning, KnowledgeWorks’ fifth forecast on the future of learning, we explore the possibility of signature learning ecosystems. Place-based learning, such as that which occurs during field trips, is a small example of such learning ecosystems at play.
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During a recent visit to Lake Conestee Nature Park in Greenville, South Carolina, I was able to observe student learning taking place, although the students might have said I was just watching fun take place. There doesn’t need to be a difference.

As an educator or caregiver trying to work in more educational opportunities during Summer break, wanting to take your learners on a field trip, especially one that explores the outdoors, what might you look for in their programs?

  • Educators that ensure that learning comes first throughout the experience
  • Safe and collaborative supervision, where chaperones have responsibilities that support the learning and purpose of the field experience, and are just as much a part of the teaching as the facilitator
  • Equitable opportunities to see, touch and investigate contextual materials related to the content at hand
  • Learning targets to provide structure and purpose to the experience
  • Consistent use of content rich vocabulary aligned to the learning targets of the field trip, and the readiness levels of all learners
  • Reading materials with aligned and rigorous content vocabulary that support their learning, based on their readiness
  • Time for play aligned to the content being learned
  • Use of formative assessment throughout the experience

Outdoor Learning at Lake Conestee Nature Park in Greenville, South Carolina

Learning happens anywhere and anytime. There are community partners, including parks and their staff, available to help us take learning out of the classroom.
Learning happens anywhere and anytime. There are community partners, including parks and their staff, available to help us take learning out of the classroom.

Not all outdoor education opportunities are created equally, but what I observed at Lake Conestee Nature Park was the high-quality, personalized experience I would wish for all learners. They offered fun, hands-on learning experiences for children of all ages and education levels.

Learning happens anywhere and anytime. There are community partners, including parks and their staff, available to help us take learning out of the classroom.

In Birmingham, Alabama, a partnership with a local farm helps take learning out of the classroom and gives students hands-on learning opportunities.