Are You In or Out?

Written by Judith Lipp, TMO’s new Manager.

In my second week of being the new manager for Take Me Outside, I was inundated with hundreds of new e-mails in a period of just a few hours. As I sat before my in-box, I had a sinking feeling and doubts about the job all of a sudden.  How would I be able to achieve the balance for which I am advocating: between stationary, screen time and being outside and active regularly. So there I was, staring at all those unread e-mails in my work inbox, feeling overwhelmed and wondering how I would ever breathe the fresh air again. But as I scanned the long list of unread messages (page after page after page) my mood shifted from feeling burdened to excited – each e-mail was a breath of fresh air with two simple words in the subject line: We’re In!

Excitedly, I began opening some of the e-mails and was rewarded by reading over and over again that teachers, principals and other educators from across Canada are on board with Take Me Outside Day (TMO) and are committed to taking a few students, a class, multiple classes or their entire school outside on October 24th to acknowledge the importance of outdoor learning for students (and adults).  People obviously get it:  getting outside is important for our health, our education and our well-being.

We at Take Me Outside deliberately leave TMO Day open ended to encourage creative approaches. It’s such a treat to see what teachers and schools come up with. Some schools have made TMO Day just that, a whole day of outdoor time while others are taking one lesson beyond the school walls. One grade three teacher wrote to tell me she is taking her class outside for a math lesson to practice estimation with falling leaves. Another teacher is taking his class for an hour-long walk looking for signs of autumn.  In some schools teachers are joining multiple classes together and doing large group activities such as forest explorations and scavenger hunts. I’ve received many messages from principals letting me know the whole school will be participating in various activities. Some schools will integrate the importance of free play – letting students loose in the playground or building with a collection of loose parts. Others will use this time to focus on new skills and learning opportunities like observational drawing and building insect hotels. The possibilities really are endless.

But not everyone has practice teaching outside and it may feel overwhelming to shepherd over twenty students out the door. If that is you, start small. Consider meeting your students outside after recess or lunch so they are already dressed for the occasion and have burned off a bit of energy, and then embark on a lesson plan or activity suited to your school grounds. For instance, a walk focused on the sights and sounds of fall will engage their senses, connect them to the natural surroundings and get them moving.  But then what? To help you plan your time outside, we’ve compiled a little resource document with outdoor activities and ideas for the school setting. For instance, our friends at Nature Canada have created a NatureBlitz Toolkit. It provides an easy, Do-It-Yourself guide for educators to lead nature learning activities in the schoolyard. This free, student-friendly toolkit includes resources, guidance, web-apps, activities and more, all aimed to help encourage students to explore nature and connect with it on their own terms.

The prevalence of screen time and the demands (and desires) of staying connected electronically all the time is a prescient issue. It’s something that affects all of us.  Finding balance is the key. Thankfully, more curriculum resources are being created for educators that address students’ physical, mental and emotional well-being. Since inception of this initiative, over a million students have participated in Take Me Outside Day. It’s clear that educators recognize the importance of outdoor learning and time spent outside, and even though Take Me Outside Day is one small gesture, it’s an important step to conveying to all Canadians how important it is to spend time in the great outdoors. Are you in or are you out?

If you haven’t e-mailed me yet, please do so. Don’t worry about the size of my inbox, I love hearing from you.  I read each one and will send you some follow up.  And don’t worry, through all the e-mails I am still managing to get myself and my toddler outside a few times a day!


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