If I only knew 31 years ago that teaching outside could, and would, transform both me and students, I would have started doing it much sooner!
This was one of my “Covid 19 Silver Linings”.
I teach in an Elementary School on Long Island, New York. In the past most of my teaching was done inside my gymnasium. I have a wonderful set-up there – plenty of space for the students, good acoustics, a traverse rock wall with monkey bars, and all the gymnastics equipment you could ever want! Why would I possibly want to teach outside when everything was so easily and conveniently available?
Then along came covid…
We lost our gymnasium (it became the second cafeteria to accommodate physical distancing during lunch). Physical Education was to be taught outdoors. We were given the option of pushing into the classrooms to teach, but did this rarely. Picture this – 20 or so desks lined up in rows with plexiglass shields, and barely enough space to move. The weather had to be truly miserable for us to push in. So out we went!
We were out in rain, heat, snow, and sleet! There were windy days where students could play “throw the scarf and chase it”. There were snowy days where children created snow forts, and even a “Snowlar System” (part of the second grade curriculum). There were rainy days where students created beautiful chalk art and played games like hopscotch and 4-square switch. They stomped in puddles, dug in mud, chased falling leaves, navigated on ice and snow, got cold, got hot, learned how to dress for the weather, and truly began to embrace all of the elements in nature.
One day, the skies unexpectedly opened up. My first grade students called out “It’s raining,” and I replied “Yes – isn’t it wonderful?” They ran around screaming, laughing, spinning, and jumping. We took a moment to notice what we could see, hear, and feel, then created a game to celebrate the moment. When class was over, I asked them if it was awful or awesome to get caught in the rain. The response was deafening: “AWESOME!”
The activities and our teaching space were different this year due to Covid protocols. Initially, I was concerned that the students would not enjoy PE, or have as rich an experience as they have in the past. I was worried that parents would complain, or children would not wear proper clothing. What I discovered was the exact opposite. In past years, if we were going outside for PE, many students would grumble and complain. If indoor recess was announced, the children would cheer. This year the reverse occurred. The children could not wait to go outside. If we voted on outside or inside, it would be unanimous – OUTSIDE – no matter what the weather was!
If only I knew.
As I approach the end of my teaching career, I regret that I did not give my prior students the gift of embracing the outdoors. I am grateful that I had the chance to do so this year, and hope that others will do the same in the future. The transformative joy that me and my students experienced was totally worth it!
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