Outdoor classrooms are the norm in parts of Canada and Europe, and the United States is starting to take notes. From Tennessee to California, teachers are changing their lesson plans to include more outdoor learning opportunities for children. One California teacher turned to the outdoors completely in place of virtual remote learning. This allows her to stay connected to her students during the COVID-19 pandemic and connect in ways that would not be possible otherwise.
Kindergarten teacher, Joyce Mucher, talked to PEOPLE about her inspiration and influence at Penryn Elementary School. With a 34-year teaching career under her belt, Mucher knows what kids need and what they respond well to. So, when it was announced at the beginning of the year that kindergarten would be fully remote, Mucher grew worried.
“Kindergarten is supposed to be magical. I fear for them in this time right now. So as long as I’m making it magical, I’m doing what I’m here to do.”
Making kindergarten “magical” through computers was simply not on Mucher’s agenda. She thought the kids deserved more. She immediately began to advocate for outdoor learning and the classroom’s parents voiced their support.
Community Tackles Outdoor Learning Project Together
What made Mucher’s outdoor classroom that much more special is the fact that her students and their parents were directly involved every step of the way. Armed with shovels, weed whackers, and a tractor, the parents cleared out a small area in the woods near blackberry brambles and a creek. Once the area was cleared, other special projects became the focus. They carefully placed tree stumps to give children a sitting area. Additionally, a dramatic play area and stage joined the mix. Even a weather-proofed dry erase board found its way to the outdoor classroom.
Mucher couldn’t hold in her joy at the sight of the finished area. “It just turned into a very beautiful, versatile space. Everything I thought could happen with it happened.”
Outdoor Learning is Good for the Soul
While Mucher knew in her heart that this was the right decision for the children, she didn’t know just how positively the outdoor space would affect them. She saw almost immediate improvements in their stress tolerance, emotional regulation, and communication skills. Moreover, the space allowed children to “problem solve and use skills that go beyond pencil and paper,” as Mucher discussed.
What’s more, is that the space extended to include more than Mucher’s kindergarten class. The whole span of the K-8 school were able to use the space to fulfill their own unique needs. Hosting writer’s workshops and gold panning, the opportunities the space created were limitless. Although Mucher will be retiring within the year, the legacy she leaves behind is not going anywhere.
Perhaps other schools across the country will take notes and follow suit. Outdoor learning really is good for the soul and this is true of any age.