The Great Outdoors

Submitted by Brian Zuber on Fri, 2017-07-14 00:00

Sorry I missed blogging Wednesday evening, had some travel delays that kept me away from my computer! My blog entry for Thursday is super late, or really, at this point, super early Friday morning! Since Friday's adventure-learning hasn't started yet, I feel like this counts! I did try to comment on at least five posts to make-up for my missed blog entry, and it was fun to read about everyone's adventures over the past two days!

For Thursday, it seems like we have two major, but related questions. What is the value of our public lands, and what is the value of getting kids outdoors more? Both worthy of reflection, but since I'm a teacher who could probably work some more outdoors time into my classes, I'll tackle that one!

Some of our posters have talked about getting kids out and into nature more, especially our lower-income students who have never, or rarely, left their neighborhoods and visited the Boise River or other natural sites nearby. I think part of the problem is cultural, our society doesn't value nature-experiences as highly as more consumeristic pursuits like fashion, music, media, etc. There are a lot of folks working to change that of course, but it remains the case. Also is a problem of access. Many working poor families don't have the time and resources to easily gather the clan into the car and head into the mountains. Probably more impactfully, is education. In our public education system, we do not have an emphasis on educating folks about the importance of getting outdoors safely, and the benefits of doing so. Which is why programs like the MILES project are so important! I know that in my own classroom, I teach ABOUT natural phenonena, but my standards don't really cover getting kids connected with nature personally. As a newer teacher, I've spent the last few years just treading water on providing what I consider an adequate education for my students (not a fan of how we train/develop teachers), and I'm just at that point where my confidence level allows me to expand what I offer my kids. Many teachers at this point get stuck in a routine, one that often doesn't include outdoor education. It takes work to education yourself as a teacher, and find ways and resources to get your kids outdoors, and we are pretty busy people as it is! Plus, we have incredibly limited resources. If the outdoor site you want to visit is beyond walking distance, busing costs and scheduling field days are barriers. Even if the site is within walking distance, at the secondary level we only have about an hour a day with the students, to schedule more meaningful time is another barrier. With persistence and work, these barriers can be overcome, but I don't think our system as is really encourages teachers to get the kids outside more!

Still, as I begin to plan for the 2017/2018 school year, I want to incorporate as many outdoor activities as possible, both targeted and meaningful educational lessons, and also just taking the kids outside into the schoolyard for class weather permitting.

When I was young, I was very lucky to be a part of a Boy Scout troop that did a lot of hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities. Not only did we get out there, but we were trained in how to do so safely, and with respecting nature and not trashing/polluting our surroundings. We were taught to value nature and outdoor opportunities. Being a Boy Scout was not "cool" back in the 80s, and it isn't "cool" now. Plus, the organization leaves out some important demographics, in particular half of the populace . . . . Wouldn't it be amazing if outdoor experiences like the Boy Scouts promote were a part of our public school system!!!!!! If regularly scheduled hiking, camping, and other trips were made available to ALL of our youth!!!!! That would be some school reform worth pursuing!


Carly Grant's picture


I like that you mentioned the restrictions/challenges that come with planning outdoor education. I thought about this yesterday as I was packing for just that. I know how much work and effort it is taking for me and just one kid to plan to leave on an outdoor adventure. ugh.. The planning, the gear, the weather, safety, food, footwear, sleeping arrangements. The list is endless!  Plus, I actually research and  pull geologic maps for locations I plan to visit and then my kids and I investigate. At times, I didn't think that my kids were into it and I thought that they thought they were being tortured, but I found out that they loved every minute of it. I made fantastic memories and have fantastic pictures of great places and my kids actually do like going outdoors and exploring.

I wish that I could "torture", I mean give my students similar experiences so that they can see just how amazing and big the world is outside my classroom. I work at a very small school with a lot of disadvantage students. I teach Geology and Earth Science, but my classes typically fall on the second half of the school year. Right during the middle of winter and into a wet spring. WIth the record amount of snow and flooding this year, none of the roads were open to places that I would have liked to have had a field trip with students. With in an hour and half drive I have the City of Rocks, Lake Cleavland, Balanced Rock, The Snake River Canyon, Box Canyon, Malad Gorge, Hagerman Fossil Beds, Miracle Hot Springs, and Shoshone Ice Caves. If I go the other direction I have Craters of the Moon, Yellowstone National Park, and Lava hot springs. I am recreation and geolgy rich where I live and my students do not even have a clue what there is out there. I value getting the kids outside so that they are away from their electronics and they are doing hands on learning. I am planning to ask my administration if I could perhaps teach my Geology courses the first part of the year so that I can plan to take my students to a location or two. 

It seems in this day and age the most important activity to kids is anything that involves a electronic device. Next year, as a teacher, I will try to incorporate as much nature as possible. The big problemm is logistics. Getting an ELA class outdoors could be an issue. However, I believe giving them outdoor activities to take home would be more beneficial. Incorporating their phones might also help. An example assignment might be: take a picture of three different trees. Choose one tree and write a short seven line poem. Or, take a five second video of an animal . Use that clip as the beginning of a short story.