Quick Tip Tuesday: Bringing the outdoors into the classroom

September 28th, 2010

In his book Schoolyard-Enhanced Learning, Herb Broda shows how the school grounds can become an enriching extension of the classroom. In this week’s Quick Tip, Herb talks about how to bring the outdoors into the classroom with little effort.

Bird Feeders
I have a vivid image of Linda Lang’s former classroom. She used to teach in one of those wonderful old rooms with creaky wooden floors and lots of wall space. There wasn’t much wall to be seen, though, since nearly every square inch was covered—mostly with naturerelated posters and student work that refl ected the outdoors.

The outside wall was blessed with many windows, one of which had a large pine tree growing nearby. She had placed bird feeders near the windows and the pine provided cover for the birds. Kids busily observed the various species of birds at the feeders and then recorded what they saw. Her class participated in the Classroom FeederWatch program through Cornell University, which actually turns the bird feeder outside the window into an interdisciplinary research activity and enables children to share their data with students across the country. The data is then accessible online and can be compared with fi ndings in other regions. More information about this program is in the “Resources” section at the end of this book.

Placed near classroom windows, feeders can provide a unique opportunity for students to get an up-close look at wildlife without leaving the classroom. Feeders also can promote a stewardship ethic as students take responsibility for filling and maintaining the feeders.

Feeders also provide a great opportunity to carry the message of enjoying nature back to the home. Simple bird feeders can be made from a variety of simple materials and often require no construction. Pie pans, plastic bottles, and pine cones with peanut butter and seeds can be converted easily into bird feeders that kids can watch at home. Linda feels that this carryover factor is one of the most important outcomes of outdoor-based teaching. If kids get excited about something they see in nature, hopefully they will develop and share a sense of caring and concern for the environment.

Classroom Pets
Having some plants or domestic animals in the classroom can provide a strong personal link with nature. Even things as simple as a small aquarium or some indoor plants on the windowsill can provide a natural feel to the classroom. If students take on the tasks of cleaning, feeding, watering, and generally taking care of these living things, feelings of responsibility and stewardship begin to develop.

Some teachers have found classroom pets to be valuable teaching tools. I’ve seen classrooms with gerbils, hamsters, mice, rats, snakes, even ants and worm farms! The decision whether or not to keep a live animal in a classroom is one that needs to be considered carefully, however. Multiple factors need to be evaluated, such as:

  • amount of care needed
  • purchase or donation of the animal
  • health needs of the animal
  • cages or other environment
  • weekend and vacation arrangements
  • cost of feeding and maintaining the animal
  • student allergies or other health concerns
  • appropriateness of the animal for your classroom

The pet should be included in the classroom only if it can be justified as a way to teach learning objectives throughout the year.

The modeling of humane and compassionate animal care is essential. Several outstanding websites are referenced in this book’s “Resources” section that provide a useful background for making a decision concerning pets in the classroom.

Entry Filed under: Quick Tip Tuesday

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jan  |  September 28th, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    If teachers need financial help in having a classroom pet, there is a grant program for teachers in Canada and USA (K-6th Grade) called Pets in the Classroom. The program awards grants up to $150.00 to purchase/adopt a classroom pet. Those teachers who already have a pet, may still apply and use the money for food, habitats, and supplies. Teachers may apply only once per year, but can apply yearly! Please visit http://www.petsintheclassroom.org for more information!

  • 2. Aron  |  March 24th, 2016 at 1:45 am

    Good article! I wish more people did that – it would be great

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