Students take break from screens for school’s first Outdoor Classroom Day

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

ANDOVER, Conn. (AP) — Preschool teacher Jennie Morrell knows that not all learning takes place in the classroom.

Morrell, who has been a teacher at Andover Elementary School for 18 years, organized the school’s first Outdoor Classroom Day on Thursday for preschool and kindergarten students.

Outdoor Classroom Day is a global campaign — in 2017, more than 2 million children in more than 100 countries took part in the event.

The day, which Morrell called an “academic field day,” was intended to highlight the importance of outdoor play and learning. For Andover Elementary, the day also served as a “transition event” for the preschoolers, so they had a chance to meet the kindergarten teachers before moving up to the kindergarten in the fall.

“In this world that is so technology-driven, a lot of kids are spending more time in front of screens,” Morrell said. “And some of the outdoor play is getting pushed aside.”

Morrell said this lack of outdoor time can impact children’s creativity and ability to interact with others. Time outside gives students a chance to express themselves in different ways and also sends them back into the classroom more ready to learn, Morrell said.

“Just from having a time to be active typically relates in a student having more focus,” Morrell said. “I think they need to learn some of the independence on how to create play without some devices that do things for you.”

The day was intended to be as student-directed as possible, according to Outdoor Classroom Day’s website, with teachers and volunteers taking a step back. With showers off and on throughout the day on Thursday, this meant that Andover’s event was muddy and wet — which didn’t bother the students much at all.

Preschoolers and kindergartners jumped up and down in the puddles, squished mud through their fingers, and made clay “sculptures” to attach to the trees.

In anticipation of this, Morrell had all the students come in with a change of clothes.

Although Outdoor Classroom Day was a special outdoor event, Morrell said the students do get outside every day. On typical days, the preschoolers have 60 minutes for recess, while the kindergartners have 30 minutes.

Andover’s Outdoor Classroom Day had more activities set up than a typical recess session.

The event, which was set up in the school’s playground area, featured 12 stations with which the students could interact. Student had name tags with pictures representing all 12 stations. When they went through a station, a teacher or volunteer would punch the respective picture.

Students were allowed to spend as much time at each station as they wanted, but the teachers and volunteers did encourage students to try out as many stations as possible, Morrell said. Some students were happy to stay at one station for the entire twohour event, Morrell said, while others tried to take part in as many stations as possible.

“We’re letting the kids explore freely. There’s a little bit of guidance for them, but it’s kind of whatever they want to do,” Morrell said.

Among the most popular stations were the water station — with buckets, tubes, and rubber ducks — and the “archaeological dig” — a sandbox with buried jewels, plastic dinosaurs, and plastic worms.

Although this was the first year that Andover Elementary participated in Outdoor Classroom Day, Morrell said outdoor play and learning are important aspects of childhood.

“It kind of realigns them,” Morrell said. “They’re having a blast out there.”