Ready to take your classroom outside but haven’t quite gotten your whole outdoor education program off the ground? Great news: you can get started right now with these 5 easy routines.
It’s always nice to start your outdoor ed sessions with some sort of ritual or routine. It helps your students truly “arrive” in the forest, both mentally and physically. Opening routines also provide a great way to connect with nature and each other, and to remind us why we came all the way out here in the first place. As an added bonus, opening routines tend to make kids feel like they are part of some sort of secret club, which, it goes without saying, they LOVE.
Your opening routine can be as simple as saying, “Welcome to the forest, scientists!” or “Good morning, forest! Thank you for having us today!” However, I recommend trying to kick it up a notch and personalize your routine in some way. This is a great opportunity to solicit ideas from your students, which in turn gives them a sense of ownership and dramatically increases their enthusiasm and participation rate.
In my class, our Opening Routine is a variation of the Unity Clap, which was originally used by Filipino and Latino farmworkers in California who couldn’t talk to each other due to their language barrier but still wanted to show unity as members of the United Farm Workers labor union in the 1960s. (You can read more about how I teach this routine and the significance behind it in Lesson 2).
Mindfulness in schools is all the rage these days, and outdoor education has you covered! Sit Spot is a dedicated time where participants sit quietly and observe nature. It can be done anywhere– on the playground, at a park, in your backyard, or in a forest. No special materials required. Sit Spot works best when children are by themselves, or at least separated from other kids by at least a few feet.
Start with a short amount of time–maybe even just 30 seconds for the youngest kiddos. Gradually, as they build their Sit Spot “muscles,” you can increase the time to 5 minutes or more. As soon as you start to notice their focus dissipating, it’s time to stop and bring them back to the group. Sit Spot works best when children can return to the same location each time, but it can also be fun to mix it up and compare one Sit Spot location to another.
Chances are you’re probably already having your students do this in some form, so this one should be easy! In my classroom we end each of our forest sessions with quiet journaling time in the classroom. (Note: individual journaling happens simultaneously with Floor Book– more about that below). I provide each student with a durable poly-cover composition book (these are my favorites) at the beginning of the year, and they use it for weekly Forest Friday journaling as well as for various other science journaling activities.
I usually provide a Guiding Question related to the day’s focus lesson, but I also let the kids have a lot of freedom in choosing what to write or draw about in their journals. The only requirement is that it needs to be at least loosely related to what we did in the forest that day.
Floor Book is a large-format, student-created living document used by students to capture and record their experiences in the forest each week. A new page is added to the book each week. I use 24″ x 36″ medium-weight tagboard for pages. Each student gets a chance to contribute to the week’s page by drawing or writing about what stands out to them from the day’s forest lesson.
Facilitation note: I usually send kids in groups of 4-5 to work on the Floor Book for about 5 minutes at a time. When they are not working on the Floor Book, they are writing or drawing in their personal journals.
Once all students have added their contributions, the class comes back together one last time to admire the page and summarize their day in the forest. The teacher can add a few summary statements on the page to capture the students’ thinking. As the year goes on, the students usually start doing this themselves.
The Floor Book should be stored somewhere where kids can access it and look at it throughout the week. It also makes a great end-of-year souvenir for your students. I usually ask a parent volunteer to take pictures of each page and turn it into a photo book for each kid to take home in June. They love it!
Story of the Day
If you do some version of a Closing Circle or End-of-Day Share in your classroom, you’re already halfway there with this one. Story of the Day is an opportunity for students to reflect and share out about that day’s outdoor education session.
At the end of each session we come back together (usually by sitting in a circle) to share what stands out to us from the day. Sometimes there might be a specific question to answer, and sometimes students get to choose what they share.
During Story of the Day we use a special Talking Stick or Listening Stone to help us remember whose turn it is to share. Only the person who is holding the Stick or Stone is allowed to talk, and everyone else must listen to them. The talking object is passed around the circle.
Facilitation Note: If you have a particularly large group, I recommend splitting into 2 or even 3 smaller groups (ideally with at least one adult facilitating each group) for Story of the Day. The smaller groups promote a more focused, respectful sharing time.
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