School Name: Happy Valley
School District: SD#62 Sooke
Inquiry Team Members: Kareen Kimoto
Inquiry Team Contact Email: email@example.com
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3)
Curricular Area(s): Applied Design, skills & Technology, Career Education, Language Arts – Oral Language
Focus Addressed: Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Experiential learning, Flexible learning, Growth mindset, Self-regulation, Social and emotional learning, STEM / STEAM
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? How might play-based outdoor learning affect students’ engagement and growth in kindergarten?
Scanning: We observed how our students were playing with the man-made playground structures. We noticed how the students were trying to engage with the limited natural environment. We wanted to see how we could encourage outdoor experiences and how we could use the outdoors in our teaching. We used the OECD principles of learning when we considered how the materials would allow the students to have a learning environment that made play central to their learning. Sharing materials with their peers, engaging with others, and allowing individual responses and behaviours honoured the students’ individuality. We considered the First Peoples Principles of Learning such as: Learning involves patience and time; Learning is embedded in memory, history, and story; Learning involves recognizing the consequences of one’s actions. Above all, we wanted to encourage that learning is experiential.
Focus: We wondered how we could provide rich experiences through play-based learning to spark our students’ curiosity and explorations. We noticed that even when provided with simple tubes and pieces of wood, they would create and design and communicate in amazing ways, which were difficult to re-create in the classroom. We wondered what else could happen with more experiences and opportunities.
Hunch: Some of the practices at the school we were concerned about included the limited play opportunities, and how open-ended play seemed to be difficult for some children. Our school population is very large, therefore, our kindergarteners are limited to a specific area of the school grounds for outside break times. This area is void of nature and consists of wood chips and man-made play structures. Our hunch was our students were craving more connections to natural materials.
New Professional Learning: Our main source of professional learning was to meet with each other and brainstorm ideas and wonders. We looked at some professional resources to guide our selection of the materials we purchased. Our guiding thoughts at all times were, how were the students reacting and what could we offer next to stimulate growth.
Taking Action: This year was a unique year for our district. We were offered money as the inquiry progressed to buy materials and see how the materials affected the students through their play. Observations from this play guided what materials we introduced next. It was a fluid process of introducing materials, noticing the students’ reactions, and refining what we offered next. We noted the affects of the play, and the skills learned, across the curriculum in all areas of learning and the school experience.
Checking: As the year progressed and the students became more open to outdoor play with each other, we would make adjustments to the materials we offered. As their play changed, we would offer different materials, sometimes specific to certain students’ interests. We watched how the students engaged with materials, while noticing and naming some of their behaviours. Through their play, students could articulate where they were going with their learning (play), what strengths they possess that will help them meet their goals, and what next steps they might need to take.
Reflections/Advice: We learned that outdoor, open-ended play is a valuable skill. It seemed as though many children are not given the opportunity and time to direct their own play, following their interests. Through the inquiry, their imaginations opened and their ability to play with others, communicate with each other, and be open to the ideas of others grew. We also noticed that the play did not follow stereo-typical gender play.
We plan to continue to use the materials, and add to our collections, for even more play opportunities in the coming years.
Our advice to other schools would be to get outside and play. The benefits are numerous and provide so many learning opportunities across the curriculum for the students. Meaningful learning, generated by the students’ curiosity and interests, make this type of work invaluable.