50 Ways to Incorporate Land-Based Learning During COVID

 In Classroom Practice

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:

  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 materials for art 
  6. Gather and use natural materials as math manipulatives
  7. Use outdoor materials to create music
  8. Take part in drama
  9. Learn traditional dances
  10. Paint/sketch/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, 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 and notice how the setting changes a person’s voice, tone, pace, feeling, etc.
  39. Take photos or videos for projects
  40. Learn about measurement
  41. Learn shapes and patterns outside
  42. Learn about spatial sense
  43. Learn about mapping
  44. Make a to-scale map of the schoolyard
  45. Walk, run, get active!
  46. Set up science experiments
  47. Go on a simple machines and mechanisms scavenger hunt
  48. Learn about traditional modes of transportation
  49. Build a traditional structure or shelter
  50. 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 info@learningbird.com.