The rumour is that the custodians at Little Falls Public School in St. Marys always have to use a little bit more WD-40 to keep the hinges working smoothly on the Grade 2 classroom of teacher Kendra Martin.
Hinges tend to become squeaky of they’re not used often.
Martin, who worked in outdoor education settings before taking up a career as a classroom teacher, has spent the past few years at Little Falls exploring ways of teaching the curriculum outside the classroom. Now, in what she and Principal Helen Brockman describe as a “demonstration program,” Martin and her 20 students plan to board a school bus every single Wednesday morning, take the 10-minute ride to a 150-acre farm property overlooking Wildwood Lake, and spend one entire day per week learning out-of-doors.
“We’re calling it a demonstration program, not a pilot project, because we know that teaching outdoors works. There’s lots of research evidence to back it up,” Martin told the Journal Argus on Labour Day Monday, the day before the 2013-14 school year began.
To those unfamiliar with the work of Martin, as well as other teachers in various area schools who have pursued similar outdoor learning, this may sound like a huge experiment. But to Brockman — who Martin credited for putting her full support behind the proposal in an effort to secure both parental go-ahead and school board approval — and others in the Little Falls community, it’s not such a leap. Martin, after all, has frequently taken her students into the great outdoors for a few years now, using the environment of locations like the Sparling Bush to help students understand concepts within the required curriculum.
“The over-riding vision is that kids should and can learn outside in all subject areas,” Martin commented. “The idea is that nature becomes the second teacher.”
With her outdoor education background, Martin remembers being intrigued a few years ago when a delegation of European teachers visited the Avon Maitland board and commented how little the schools utilized their surrounding environments. When she heard about an organization called Forest School Canada, she began thinking seriously getting her students outside more often. A meeting with environmental education/facilitation consultant Cobi Sauder, who lives on a farm overlooking Wildwood, led to the every-Wednesday-outdoors proposal.
Martin says the Sauder property — aside from the obvious opportunity to learn about nature — is full of potential, including gardens to allow students to learn about food production, small-scale alternative energy generation projects, and even an innovative moss-based system for treating septic wastes. Plus Cobi and her husband Steve, an employee of the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority, will be excellent resources