Outdoor learning engages students

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Alvin Bone, 11, left, and Michaela Lindsey, 10, work on a math assignment together Thursday in the outdoor learning environment at G.W. Bulluck Elementary School.


Staff Writer

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Now that spring is here, students at G.W. Bulluck Elementary School are able to take better advantage of their new outdoor learning environment.

Students in Melissa Gay’s fourth-grade math class recently did their “classwork” outside.

Gay set up math problems at different learning stations on rocks and benches in the school’s outdoor learning environment adjacent to the playground. Some papers with math problems were taped to school windows near the play area.

Students ran from one area to another to find and solve the problems, which somehow seemed more exciting than if they had been inside.

“You can move around and do stuff. You don’t have to stay in one place, but you still learn,” said Quivis Jackson, 10.

The school has a separate preschool playground, complete with a trike track, music wall and butterfly garden. The main playground has the traditional play areas as well as a new covered area and the outdoor learning environment surrounded by newly planted trees, because students had requested more shaded areas.

Plans are also in place to create another wheelchair-friendly play area in the near future to provide greater access to all students.

“These kids are coming to us with a lot of trauma in their lives. We have to think about how to do things differently while keeping it basic,” said Hillary Boutwell, principal of G.W. Bulluck Elementary School. “We have done a lot of thinking on what we can capitalize on what we have here and the outdoor space is one of our biggest assets.”

The school has been doing a lot of work lately centered on how to build resiliency and how to handle the needs of students at the school, many of whom face violence and trauma in their ordinary lives. Teachers at the school are reading and discussing two works by Joe Hendershott as they ponder these issues: “Reaching the Wounded Student” and “7 Ways to Transform the Lives of Wounded Students.”

Boutwell said the playground and outdoor learning area are good places to address some of these issues with young students.

“We are identifying that we need to go beyond what is traditionally done in the classroom,” Boutwell said. “The outdoor learning environment is a beautiful space to be able to engage children. We can sit down with students and form a bond and find out what it going on with them.”

Teachers at the school are trying to work with students to make them feel safe and welcome at school. And students are noticing.

“My teachers never have a bad attitude, and they act like they love us,” said Avery Whittig, 11.

Boutwell said this is part of the strategy the school is employing to put students in a frame of mind where learning is possible.

“Some of these kids are facing things outside the classroom that children should not be subjected to, that adults should not be subjected to. And we really need to make school a haven for them,” Boutwell said.