50 Ways to Incorporate Land-Based Learning During COVID
There’s no question about it: school is going to feel different this fall. The global COVID-19 pandemic which has sealed borders and made social distancing a new reality will have teachers and principals scrambling to be innovative as they plan for student learning and go above and beyond to keep students safe.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has released recommendations for the opening of schools including those in remote, isolated, and Indigenous communities. For many schools, this will mean extra cleaning, finding a workable balance between class sizes and building capacity, and ensuring the cultural safety and mental well-being of staff, students, families, and community members. The World Health Organization suggests people “avoid crowded places, close-contact settings and confined and enclosed spaces with poor ventilation.” This suggestion probably has many of us thinking: physical distancing won’t be easy inside a classroom.
Why not turn this challenge into an opportunity to get students learning outdoors this fall? For many Indigenous peoples Land is the first teacher; it is the primary relationship that connects humans to all their relations. Land-based learning as a pedagogical approach has been shown to have mental health benefits for learners, boost student engagement, and build community connectedness (Cherpako, 2019). Although land-based learning looks different depending where you are, it is generally experienced through an Indigenous lens and deepens a person’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual connection to the land. In addition, “what can be learned from the Land can be thoroughly integrated into provincial curriculum learning outcomes in all subjects taught in classrooms” (Davis et al, 2015).
As we all find our “new normal” this fall, let’s make learning outdoors part of it. Whether it’s learning from the formal math curriculum or sharing stories in an Indigenous language, here are 50 ways to get your students learning outside this fall:
- Engage in community building and team building activities
- Sit quietly and observe nature with the five senses
- Meditate, pray, or do mental health exercises
- Learn boundaries and self-regulation
- Gather and use natural materials for art
- Gather and use natural materials as math manipulatives
- Use outdoor materials to create music
- Take part in drama
- Learn traditional dances
- Learn about traditional medicines
- Harvest foods and medicines
- Talk about food sovereignty
- Identify edible plants
- Identify (and pull) invasive plants
- Care for the environment by cleaning up outdoors
- Learn about trees and plants
- Learn about animal habitats and migration
- Listen to a teaching about the land and water
- Observe life cycles and seasonal changes in autumn
- Do “fieldwork” (make observations, gather samples, analyze, report)
- Learn about weather patterns, traditional ways to predict the weather
- Experience how sound travels in different wind and weather conditions
- Visit a sacred site or local historical site
- Learn about the local history of the land
- Learn the stories behind local place names
- Write in a journal
- Write descriptively
- Take turns storytelling
- Share an experience about being on the land
- Read independently
- Read aloud
- Engage in a talking circle
- Practice vocabulary words in an Indigenous language
- Tell a story or give a presentation in different locations and notice how the setting changes a person’s voice, tone, pace, feeling, etc.
- Take photos or videos for projects
- Learn about measurement
- Learn shapes and patterns outside
- Learn about spatial sense
- Learn about mapping
- Make a to-scale map of the schoolyard
- Walk, run, get active!
- Set up science experiments
- Go on a simple machines and mechanisms scavenger hunt
- Learn about traditional modes of transportation
- Build a traditional structure or shelter
- STEM challenge: build something.
This year is challenging educators to rethink learning in traditional classrooms and reinforcing what many Indigenous educators have known all along: there is value in having students learn outdoors. Let’s seize this opportunity and explore the ways land-based learning can infuse all areas of the curriculum with Indigenous perspectives and ways of knowing. The outdoors offers students a sensory learning experience, real-world examples, and perhaps best of all, the space to just pause and breathe. That alone is a comfort we’ll all need as we press onward in the COVID-19 pandemic.
How will your students be learning outside this fall? We would love to hear your ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.