By Jill Keating-Herbst
Professional Development Coordinator

How do you teach? Are  you a frog catcher,  bean planter or bird watcher?  Do you teach and learn best using your entire body, all of your senses and the entire world around  you? Do you dig worms, hunt bugs, adopt trees? Maybe you want to?  Join our community of educators and learners who knock down classroom walls, get dirty and co-teach with nature! This is not just formal educators, but also for parents, home school teachers, future educators and others who want to learn about connecting kids with nature.

Learning to teach the outdoors...in the outdoors, of course!

Learning to teach the outdoors…in the outdoors, of course!

At Common Ground our style of education is doing. We do farming, we do frog catching, we do hikes up the mountain.  We do science in the forest, Spanish in the garden and social studies out in the neighborhood. We are experts and we are students everyday. All of us.

Sharing the outdoors with kids is more important now than ever. The independence of free play, the freedom of exploring natural spaces and time to just get dirty have decreased in the common childhood experience. This unfortunate reality often comes from  a sense of fear: fear of unsafe spaces, fear of schools that may fall behind, fear of unknown natural spaces. But this comes at the cost of kids losing touch with their place. Kids don’t need a whole forest; they just need their own patch and we can create that in the school yard.

This past week, Common Ground was proud to be a partner on the second annual Schoolyard Habitat Leadership Summit held at Audubon Greenwich. Over 60 educators representing 25 schools and organizations came together to share best practices around creating native wildlife habitat in schoolyards and using it as a tool to engage students. I heard so many inspiring stories from teachers all over our state from Waterbury to Shelton to Stamford to Norwich. Teachers who have decided that kids need to move, that they need fresh air and dirt, and that they learn best when engaged in projects connected to their community and environment. These committed educators work hard  every day to support authentic student learning using their school yard and we want to create more space for them to tell their stories.

Throughout the school year we offer a series of workshops and collaborative events designed to bring together educators to share best practices.

Our goal is to create a  network of support for teachers who are committed to going outside with their students.Planning your outdoor classroom, studying worms and compost, seed starting and tackling Next Generation Science Standards (outside!) is just the beginning.

Additional workshops focused on our NatureYear program, a schoolyard learning peer share and more will be added throughout the school year.

In early December, Suzannah Holsenbeck, Schoolyards Program Manager, and I will spend a week in Santa Cruz at the School Garden Support Organization Leadership Institute working with 9 other teams from all over the country to develop a statewide network of educators who utilize  gardens and outdoor spaces to teach school children.  Our specific focus is on offering effective and collaborative professional development and building a community of teachers and learners. Our team was one of ten chosen out of over 75 applicants and we are so excited to have this opportunity to build effective programming to bring together CT teachers and garden educators. We are all in this together!

On November 14, we’ll host an afternoon Growing up Wild workshop open to all who work with young children in the outdoors: teachers, parents, informal educators and others. Please consider joining us to learn engaging activities to explore nature with children ages 3-7. We will explore worms, leaves, animal habitats and – most importantly- the importance of play. Come play in the woods with us and take home great activities to share with your students.

We are also continuing to build our website designed to support resources for outdoor learning. Register, share a story or a lesson and connect with others doing similar work at CTschoolgardens.org.  

We’d love to see you at an upcoming workshop or hear from  you about what else you’d like to see us offer to support your goals of getting kids outside. Together, we’ll knock down those classroom walls!