Cedar Elementary SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith

School Name: Cedar Elementary

School District: SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith

Inquiry Team Members: Joanne Allair: joanne.allair@sd68.bc.ca, Stacey Brown: Stacey.Brown1@sd68.bc.ca, Lori Bibbs: LBibbs@sd68.bc.ca, Katie Loos: KLoos01@sd68.bc.ca, Darlene Crane: Darlene.Crane@sd68.bc.ca

Inquiry Team Contact Email: joanne.allair@sd68.bc.ca

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE

Grade Levels: Primary (K-3)

Curricular Area(s): Career Education, Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Physical & Health Education, Science, Social Studies

Focus Addressed: Experiential learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning, Social and emotional learning, Other: Play-based learning; BC’s Early Learning Framework

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? The role of play, particularly outdoor play, in students’ well-being and learning, as well as the educator’s role in play, particularly outdoor play.

Scanning: We gathered observations, artifacts/photos, educator reflections, classroom assessments to date, and talked with and listened to our students. We used the second and third of the four key questions to inquire with children about their understanding of learning at school. Our students have diverse backgrounds, families, life experiences, wide ranges of strengths and academic levels and behaviours, and expressed preferences indicate students crave movement, choice, participation, play, and social interactions. Play is particularly joyful and feels good, and is important to our learners; we see meaningful and authentic learning in their play. Using the Early Learning Framework as our guide, this connects to the OECD principles of: “Learners at the centre,” “The social nature of learning,” and “Emotions are integral to learning.”

Focus: We are noticing our actions and pedagogical decisions, including the learning environment, affect children’s experience of school, their sense of joy, well-being, belonging, and learning. We chose the principle “Play is integral to well-being and learning” from the Early Learning Framework to focus our inquiry. We would like to focus our learning this year on outdoor play, specifically. We are hoping to understand more about the impact of play/outdoor play for ourselves, and are hoping to create an environment of play, choice, agency, and well-being grounded in relationships for our students.

Hunch: We carry our hunches from last year’s interrupted inquiry forward into our context this year of outdoor play – we are curious about how children will respond to outdoor play offered through a range of pedagogical strategies (as in BC’s Play Today Handbook). Typically, outdoor play is “recess” and often outdoor learning is structured, however our students are early primary and are still constructing their understanding of “school”. We wonder about the role of the teacher in outdoor play.

Our hunches from last year carrying forwards: “that paying attention to the role of play in children’s developing sense of well-being and in their learning will help us teach and respond to children holistically — to see their gifts, to help children develop positive relationships and personal identity, and for them to see their strengths and the strengths of others. Our second hunch is that this will require us to reflect on and explore our views of children, learning, school, play, and relationships. We believe we can experiment with ways in which educators can listen, notice, name, and nurture learning. We think this will also cause us to reflect on and explore assessment/reporting practices, as the curriculum is brought to life through our learners’ play.”

New Professional Learning: We wanted to understand more about the benefits of outdoor play for children, so together we read “Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children” by Angela J. Hanscom. We referenced the websites outsideplay.ca, and childnature.ca – Thrive Outside, and Megan Zeni’s website. Some of our team explored the idea of “a seasonal pedagogy” from Hopi Lovell Martin http://edgeofthebush.ca/a-seasonal-pedagogy/. We used our observations of play to inform decisions about new materials – Kindergarten teachers opting for very open-ended outdoor playthings such as tarps and pails, eager to see what play they would provoke, and Gr. 1 teachers opting to enhance play with story telling materials and resources about the local natural world. We referred to the Early Learning Framework’s description of pedagogical narration, and invited colleagues and parents to look at images of outdoor play and share thoughts about the learning happening.

Taking Action: We would continue to refine and explore use of all of the following that we tried this year:
-using ‘a pedagogy of listening’ to understand the child’s experience/thinking to reveal the learning happening individually and collectively
-teachers responded to those observations and understandings with offerings of new materials, adjustments to time, repetitions of opportunities, overt or internal structures in outdoor play time
-sharing of teacher observations, curricular and core competency learning, and possible next steps for growth with families using online digital portfolios
-explored tying ongoing formative assessments to outdoor play through narrative assessment/pedagogical narration
-shared with colleagues and parents, and invited them to contribute their reflections on images of play using the thinking routine “See, Think, Wonder”
-centering the child in their learning by protecting time, committing to student choice, listening, matching play to curriculum

Checking: We continue to explore ways to track these qualitative measures. We asked some interview questions early in the year, and similar ones towards the end, regarding children’s experience of play. We collected their words. Anecdotally, each classroom teacher noticed great growth in confidence in the children’s physicality and embodiment of play, both large and small muscles. We are astonished by the capacity of the children to fill their time to the brim with rich play pursuits with increasing stamina and unwavering joy. We watched the ebb and flow of SEL in real and meaningful contexts as the year progressed, with enduring relationships, generosity, and an increasing sense of identity.

We see that our outdoor play experiences, in part, had a positive effect on the children’s experience of school:
“I thought that Kindergarten was going to be good, but it’s actually amazing!”
“My favourite part of the day is Partner Play, and playing outside, and in the forest.”
Parents also had positive impressions of their child’s outdoor play experiences:
“I am glad my child is learning outside to use different materials and her imagination.”
“I wonder if this type of learning would benefit other age groups and if teaching this way would enhance kids’ level of absorbing learning skills better.”

Reflections/Advice: The influence of the pandemic on this school year was immense. We jumped into outdoor play more than we might have without it, and find that it is a practice we want to keep in future. It had lots of challenges, but so many more benefits! We plan to continue to learn more about place-based learning, play-based learning, ways to share about the learning in play with both families and colleagues. Communicating about the value of play and outdoor play/learning with colleagues and families was important, and will continue to be so – the Early Learning Framework and Play Today are invaluable and have parent-friendly versions to share as well. Our advice would be to just do it – go outside, stay outside, dress for the weather, and let kids make real choices about their play and learning!

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