50 Ways to Incorporate Land-Based Learning During COVID

 In Classroom Practice

There’s no question about it: School will feel different this fall. The global COVID-19 pandemic sealed borders and made social distancing a new reality. It has educators and principals scrambling to innovate learning plans and go above and beyond to keep learners safe. The pandemic is challenging educators to rethink classroom learning and embrace the value of land-based learning.

Reopening Schools Safely

The Public Health Agency of Canada has released recommendations for opening schools, including those in remote, isolated, and Indigenous communities. That will mean extra cleaning and finding a workable balance between class sizes and building capacity for many schools. Schools must ensure the cultural safety and mental well-being of staff, learners, 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.

Land-Based Learning

Why not turn this challenge into an opportunity to learn outdoors this fall? For many Indigenous Peoples, Land is the first teacher. It is the primary relationship connecting humans to all their relations. Land-based learning as a pedagogical approach has measurable mental health benefits for learners, boosts student engagement, and builds community connectedness (Cherpako, 2019). Although land-based learning looks different depending on where you are, we generally experience it through an Indigenous lens. It 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). 

Let’s make learning outdoors part of our “new normal” this fall, whether it’s a formal math curriculum or sharing stories in an Indigenous language.

50 Land-Based Learning Activities for the Fall

  1. Engage in community building and team building activities. 
  2. Sit quietly and observe nature with the five senses.
  3. Meditate, pray, or do mental health exercises.
  4. Learn boundaries and self-regulation.
  5. Gather and use natural art materials. 
  6. Gather and use natural materials as math manipulatives.
  7. Use outdoor materials to create music.
  8. Take part in a drama.
  9. Learn traditional dances.
  10. Paint, sketch, or colour.
  11. Sew.
  12. Cook.
  13. Garden.
  14. Learn about traditional medicines.
  15. Harvest foods and medicines.
  16. Talk about food sovereignty.
  17. Identify edible plants.
  18. Identify and pull invasive plants. 
  19. Care for the environment by cleaning up outdoors.
  20. Learn about trees and plants.
  21. Learn about animal habitats and migration.
  22. Listen to a teaching about the land and water.
  23. Observe life cycles and seasonal changes in autumn.
  24. Do “fieldwork” (make observations, gather samples, analyze, report).
  25. Learn about weather patterns and traditional ways to predict the weather.
  26. Experience how sound travels in different wind and weather conditions.
  27. Visit a sacred site or local historical site.
  28. Learn about the local history of the land.
  29. Learn the stories behind local place names.
  30. Write in a journal.
  31. Write descriptively.
  32. Take turns storytelling. 
  33. Share an experience about being on the land.
  34. Read independently.
  35. Read aloud.
  36. Engage in a talking circle.
  37. Practice vocabulary words in an Indigenous language.
  38. Tell a story or give a presentation in different locations. Notice how the setting changes the storyteller’s voice, tone, pace, feeling, etc.
  39. Take photos or videos for projects.
  40. Learn about measurement.
  41. Walk, run, and get active!
  42. Learn about spatial sense.
  43. Make a to-scale map of the schoolyard.
  44. Learn shapes and patterns outside.
  45. Set up science experiments.
  46. Go on a simple machines and mechanisms scavenger hunt.
  47. Learn about traditional modes of transportation.
  48. Build a traditional structure or shelter.
  49. Learn about mapping.
  50. STEM challenge: Build something.

Rethink Classrooms

This year challenges educators to rethink learning in classrooms. It’s reinforcing what many Indigenous educators have known all along: There is value in learning outdoors. Let’s seize this opportunity and explore ways land-based learning can infuse all curriculum areas with Indigenous perspectives and ways of knowing. The outdoors offers learners a sensory learning experience, real-world examples, and perhaps best of all, the space to pause and breathe. That alone is a comfort we’ll all need as we press onward in the COVID-19 pandemic.

What land-based learning will your learners be doing this fall? We would love to hear your ideas at info@learningbird.com.