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start with a map of your school’s recess area; if there are hills or streams, follow them along to see where they lead. Look online for local neighborhood groups that might be doing work around your school and use them as a resource of information before committing to any project. Searching for land trusts in your municipality may introduce you to property that you weren’t aware was available for exploration. Time your walks so you have an idea how much time to allow for outings. Get in the habit of going outside with your class

whenever possible, such as at lunch. Interestingly, the year we started going out regularly the class ate lunch outdoors whenever it could. Students started requesting reading time outside and eventually we realized that many classes could be held outside. The more you spend time outdoors, the less novel it becomes, and students and teachers are more able to pay closer attention to the details that surround them. Don’t set up expectations at the start. You may have

students who don’t enjoy walking, or aren’t used to being outside. Provide lots of practice time for walking and obser- vation. Purchase (or make) journals early in the process and make sure everyone brings them along with a few pencils. Set up observation squares (using a string or even a hula- hoop) to define an area of observation. Start building your classroom “going out” kit. Our kit

started with bug spray, sunscreen and a few Band-Aids and it grew as students brought objects from home such as hand lenses and inexpensive binoculars. Invest in an inexpensive digital camera and teach the students how to use it. Make it a student’s job to see that batteries are charged and photos downloaded regularly. Don’t try to plan it all yourself: involve students, parents

and others at your school. Involving students in decisions increases their interest and investment in the outing. Involving parents can also help particularly when special planning is involved. Include people who might not usually join you in your class like the head of the school or an office manager. Admit, at least to your self, that you are not certain

where this will lead! Have a general idea of your course objectives but use the time outside to watch and listen to what students are noticing. Use their curiosity, questions and observations to plan for the next lesson. If you feel an assignment is necessary, have them record either a drawing or narrative observation in their field journal.


After weeks of “going out”, we observed that our students had greater patience in making observations. They spent more time drawing and showed an increased attention to detail in their drawings.We noted improved accuracy with measurements when using simple field tools such as hand lenses, thermometers and rulers.We also noticed that our students were using a wider variety of sources for informa- tion including field guides, general reference books, posters, as well as the Internet.When we started the next science unit on aerodynamics, the most suprising change was that our students already had an increased understanding of the scientific method. Groups of students would try an activity, record the outcome, analyze, revise, and rerun the experi- ment after changing only one variable. Ironically, we had

been trying to teach the concept of scientific inquiry for many years with much less success until we went outside. Beyond the realm of science, our students now felt

connected to the Beaver Brook North Reservation and considered it their special place. One parent remarked, “My son ran ahead of us one Saturday saying he had to show us the cemetery.” The main characters of our students’ stories changed from aliens and blobs to personified animals. Another student wanted to write a letter to our town’s planning committee thanking them for the sidewalk enhancements. Students seemed to connect to the outer world as citizens rather than “just kids.” Our Physical Education teacher noted an improvement in our students’ physical stamina after our walks. Some of our students changed from lethargic to more engaged. And even the students who did not become excited field investigators seemed to appreciate the experience. I noticed a difference in the adults as well. Each of us

shed a few unwanted pounds and engaged with science in a different way. We embraced concepts listed in our curricu- lum and discovered a whole new level of comprehending science. A year later, we continue a weekly walk in the woods. Now, we are focusing on watershed and wetland studies and are gathering data for a watershed stewardship project in the town. If all this sounds magical, then I’ve done a good job of

conveying it to you. It was a magical experience, not only for the students, but for me as well. I no longer moan when it is my turn to supervise recess and I’m now viewed as the science teacher who loves the outdoors—something this city girl never anticipated.

Joyce F. Nett teaches 9-12 year-olds in the Upper Elemen- tary classroom at Lexington Montessori School in Lexington, Massachusetts.


Barkman, Robert. 1999. Science through Multiple Intelligences. Tucson, AZ: Zephyr Press, Inc.

Kirkland, Jane. 2005. Take a City Nature Walk. Lionville, PA: Stillwater Publishing.

Kirkland, Jane. 2007. No Student Left Indoors: Creating a Field Guide to Your Schoolyard. Lionville, PA: Stillwater Publishing. Lillard, Paula Polk. 1996. Montessori Today. New York, NY: Schocken Books.

Louv, Richard. 2005. Last Child in the Woods:Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Additional Resources Busch, Phyllis S. 1977. Wildflowers and the Stories Behind their Names. New York, NY: Scribner.

Galko, Fancine. 2004. Classifying Flowering Plants. Chicago, IL: Heinemann Library.

Lingelbach, Jenepher. 1986. Hands-On Nature.Woodstock, VT: Vermont Institute of Natural Science.

Penny, Malcolm. 2004. Life Under a Stone. Chicago, IL. Raintree.

Pascoe, Elaine. 2003. The Ecosystem of a Fallen Tree. New York, NY: Pow- erKids Press. Ruef, Kerry. 1992. The Private Eye. Seattle, WA: The Private Eye Project.

Sobel, David. 1996. Beyond Ecophobia. Great Barrington, MA: The Orion Society.

Footnotes 1. Louv, 2005, p. 49 2. <>, accessed January 2, 2011.


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