Happy St. Patrick's Day! I have green on my mind, so today's Teaching Tuesday topic is about our Morning Nature Walk.
I first learned about this through my children's elementary school, Sunset Hills Montessori. This is a practice that one of their former teachers began and it's one of the reasons why we chose the school. Therefore, when we began to think about Ideaventions Academy and what our students' days would be like, this daily practice was at the top of my list. To me, it's a way to start the day off right. There are so many dimensions on why I believe that starting the school day with a morning nature walk is highly beneficial to kids.
I was lucky enough to be able to join my kids' classes on their morning walks last year. Being able to observe what kids do in a loosely-structured, natural learning environment has been one of my favorite experiences in education. From the squeals of joy when the flower we’d been looking at every day finally bloomed, to the dead snake that we found and photographed on our path, to the turtle we observed standing on a log by the lake, to the various leaves and seeds that we didn't recognize, to even getting soaked one day when a rain storm caught us by surprise, I learned so much from the kids on these walks. Since the first day, I realized that the learning opportunities are endless and child driven.
Reset After the Morning Rush
When I think of our weekday mornings, it’s a picture of the mad dash to get in the car by 8 am. Even when everything is pre-packed, the clothes laid out and the backpacks in the car from the night before, we're always still rushed to get to school on time. And, sometimes, one of us wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. Whenever I’m stressed or upset, walking outside clears my head. Think about the last time you had a bad day and you went out for a walk or went to the gym and worked out. Didn't you feel better afterwards?
Every time I take my kids to see their pediatrician, one thing that we talk about consistently is that all kids should be getting one hour of physical exercise every day. One goal of our morning routine is to provide some of that physical time for kids at their natural pace. We envision having groups of kids that will move at different speeds. We imagine having 1) The runners - the group of kids to whom being outdoors means freedom and take off on a run, 2) The walkers - the group of kids who like to walk and/or talk and 3) The observers, these are the kids, who stop and discover every new ant hill or who stop to collect the leaves that have fallen. Depending on each child's energy level, having this energy release to start his or her day, whether it's a run, a walk or a slow stroll, may make the difference on how hard they need to work in order to learn.
Improved Memory and Concentration
I had the opportunity to attend a talk by Dr. John Gabrieli in December and part of the discussion centered around memory as we age. It was a fascinating talk overall, but one part of his talk really resonated with me. It was that the one thing that has been scientifically proven to improve memory in seniors is aerobic exercise multiple times per week. The effect on kids still needs more research, but there have been various studies on the positive effect of exercise on memory and cognition of adolescents. We want to provide kids the opportunity learn more easily, and also to introduce them to a habit that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
Social and Emotional Well-Being
The time spent in an outdoor setting also gives children an opportunity for social time, both with their friends and with their teachers. We view school a place for academics, as well as a place to develop their social and emotional well-being. I remember learning so much about what really interested the on our walks last year. There were two boys who loved science and would spend half of the walk talking about various science experiments with me, or the boy who saw the mist over the lake and started making up stories about pirates. I was also able to learn kids' natural dispositions so that if a child was particularly quiet that day or out of sorts, there was a low-key chance to ask if there was anything he or she wanted to talk about.
I am so excited to be able to take this great start to the day to more children. Lastly, if you want more ideas for how to spend time with nature, check out Todd Christopher's, The Green Hour, I highly recommend it.
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Juliana Heitz is co-founder of Ideaventions Academy and is very excited to share the thinking behind the Academy.
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