Thursday, December 3, 2009

Fall and Winter Outdoor Education Ideas

It's getting to be that time of year again.  Our calendars here at the Division of Wildlife are jam-packed with requests for Project WILD and WILD School Site workshops at schools all over the state. We finished workshops this fall in Reynoldsburg, Mogadore, Greenville, Xenia, Maysville and Worthington, to name a few. These schools are looking to start their school year with a fresh new look at education, from the outdoor perspective.

One thing we always talk about in these workshops is the struggle we find in just getting teachers to take kids outside...period! Our mantra is that if you don't get used to taking them outside now, no manner of gardens, woods or ponds that may be in the works will get you out later. Taking kids outside for a class lesson can be a real struggle for some teachers. If you're not an outdoorsy person, it never occurs to you to nurture that perspective in your students. However, if you think about it, it takes a teacher 4 to 6 years to develop their own teaching style. We don't expect you to change it all in a 6 hour workshop. And neither should you. It will take some creativity, patience, and an adjustment in mindset in many cases for your outdoor education experiences to be a success.

So, if you are someone who is about to venture into the world of outdoor and environmental education this year, take it slow. Try a lesson here or there. Don't try to do it all at once. It will be too intimidating and overwhelming and you'll end up getting frustrated. And the last thing you should appear to your students is frustrated. Outdoor education is supposed to be fun, an adventure! You want your students to enjoy the outdoors, not look at it as a chore. One of the best learning experiences a student can have is when they don't even realize they are learning.

If you're thinking that you need to wait until spring, now that our lovely Ohio winter has set in, you're underestimating the potential for great winter outdoor experiences.  Here are a few tips and activities to help make your winter outdoor adventures a success:

       Winter Outdoor Education Safety Tips:
  • Make sure the students are properly dressed for the weather.  That means no flip flops for older kids and definitely gloves and hats for the little ones.
  • Make short trips outdoors if it's really cold, and be sure to keep moving.  Standing still in the cold just makes you colder.
  • Be careful around large water features, especially moving water.  Stepping through the ice can turn a fun experience into a dangerous one very quickly.  Never walk on ice that's less than 4 inches thick and never trust ice over moving water.
       Winter Outdoor Education Activity Ideas:
  • Have students view features of the school during the winter and compare to how they looked in other seasons.  Have students keep a sketch or photo journal of different features, i.e. trees, flower beds, streams, fields, etc. for a seasonal comparison study.
  • Try to find animal tracks in heavy snow or muddy areas.  Setting up bait piles of corn, bird seed or other beneficial food to encourage wild visitors is a good way to find tracks.  Look around pond edges, muddy areas along parking lots and playgrounds, and along streams for tracks as well.
  • If you have a bluebird box trail, take a peek in the boxes to see if any mice have taken up residence for the winter.  You can leave them be for now, but be sure to clean out your boxes and make any necessary repairs by March 1st so they'll be ready for any early returning cavity nesting birds such as bluebirds and house wrens.
  • Keep bird feeders as full as possible during any significant snow or ice events.  If you have enough warning, fill them up the days before a big weather event.  Your feathered neighbors will be much appreciative of the food during these difficult times.  If possible, keeping a source of water open will really draw in a lot of visitors.  This can be accomplished by keeping a waterproof heating coil in a bird bath all winter long.
  • Keep a list of what species of wildlife visit your site during the winter versus other seasons. Have students speculate on why some animals are here only certain times of the year.
If you have other ideas or have had great experiences outdoors, please share them here! Happy Holidays and get outdoors!!