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UBC education expert says kids benefit from learning outdoors

04/16/2015 09:35 EDT | Updated 06/28/2015 09:59 EDT
Hartley Banack thinks all kids should get out of the classroom and into the great outdoors — at least part of the time.

"Experiential learning is our primary source of knowledge," said Banack, a lecturer at UBC's department of curriculum and pedagogy. "Experiential learning is something that happens in the 'real world.' And the 'real world' is not in the classroom."

He says overwhelming research shows that time spent learning outdoors brings many benefits to the individual and society at large, including improved physical health, stress reduction around learning disabilities and community building.

That's why Banack has organized "Wild About Vancouver." The city's first outdoor education festival offers free classes in everything from beekeeping to kayaking to permaculture.

It also includes workshops for teachers on how to take the classroom outside. He shared some tips with CBC Radio's The Early Edition.

1.Start small

Pick part of the curriculum that can be easily adapted to outdoor learning. For example, Banack works with a Vancouver kindergarten class that goes outside to teach students about weather.

2. Start in your own backyard

Assess the school grounds and use existing resources like a grassy fields to look at plants and animals, set up a weather station, or collect water.

"There's a ton of things that tie into the curriculum we can do that aren't necessarily dependant on funding or local expertise," said Banack.

3. Use your network

Banack recommends teachers find out what knowledge exists within the classroom or school. For example, find out if parents or community members are willing to share their expertise outside.

He also encourages educators to network with other teachers to share ideas and resources.

4. Head to the local park

A field trip doesn't have to be a bus trip. Many schools are within short walking distance to local parks, which hold element such as gardens, trees and ponds. These can provide fertile ground for studies in science, history, community engagement, even language arts.

5. Embrace the elements

It won't always be sunny, especially in Vancouver. But rain (or snow) doesn't mean you can't get outside.

Utilize covered outdoor play areas, consider setting up tarps, and make sure kids have the right outerwear. And don't be afraid to get your hands wet.

"This is a reality that we're building for our children," said Banack. "Being outside regardless of the weather is important."

6. Reduce the risks

Teachers and parents may be wary of safety concerns related to taking kids outside and off school grounds. Banack recommends educators be familiar with the free Youth Safe Outdoors resource guide for field trip safety, available at all B.C. schools.

He anticipates more interest in "outdoor competency" within the education system in the future as interest in outdoor education grows.

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