Learning Beyond the Brick Walls

Division(s): Primary
Level(s): Kindergarten

This project was undertaken to explore nature and to increase our knowledge and use of the outdoors and our local conservation area with our FDK program. We wanted to implement changes to the physical space and gather outdoor teaching resources.

GTMacphail Memorial abuts onto an amazing 100-acre conservation area that our students have full access to with their classroom teachers. We want to take this opportunity and expand it into something that is increasingly meaningful and well used by all. Last year, we were able to build a successful community garden that combined school and community stewardship and this is another phase to improving our outdoor space. We have four kindergarten classrooms with 120 FDK students and, as an educator team, we have set a goal this year to embrace the outdoors in curriculum planning. We know that learning outdoors has the potential to improve moods, increase retention rate of material, decrease behaviours and increase attention. This also creates an opportunity to get out of the classroom to learn instead of relying on a field trip for a new experience when there is a cohort who can not travel on buses for cultural reasons.

Team Members

  • Nancy Knight

    Bluewater District School Board

  • Amanda Knox

    Bluewater District School Board

  • Kathryn Green

    Bluewater District School Board

  • Michelle Heatherington

    Bluewater District School Board

Professional Learning Goals

  • Utilization of outdoor space
  • Incorporation of natural loose parts into curriculum elements
  • Learning about the outdoor materials and how to best organize and incorporate them in both learning environments (i.e., materials for a pond study or wonder wagon)
  • Extending our Human Capital by making connections with educators who specialize in outdoor learning



Activities and Resources

  • Red Tail Forest School Observation Day
  • 30 by 30 nature challenge
  • Hands in the Dirt workshop
  • Outdoor ed by the ELP
  • Scientists in the school: backyard bugs
  • Tadpoles and caterpillars
  • Growing plants in the classroom
  • Taking the Learning Outdoors – Nature Awareness Education Workshop: “Introduction to nature awareness education; Practical strategies for teaching outdoors including example lessons, curriculum connections, building a Tribes community, and specific links to learning outcomes; Overview of Flow Learning approach and Core Routines for a nature-based program; Components of the Nature Classroom, resources, basic materials to support learning, establishing a classroom that compliments your teaching. Teachers will build on their personal nature literacy, through identifying local plants, trees and animals and learn how to incorporate this knowledge into everyday learning experiences.”

Unexpected Challenges

  • Kindergarten documents/workshops do not connect with health and safety guidelines from the Board (i.e., unable to bring in large rocks or stumps, requirement of site plans to purchase picnic tables, required board-approved vendors which costs more money, etc.)
  • Bathroom issues when far away from the school
  • Students not coming prepared for outdoor learning (extra clothes, warm/dry clothes or appropriate shoes)

Enhancing Student Learning and Development

  • Use of imagination/creativity and nature around them (not using toys)
  • Meditation in nature (moving meditation or  timed meditation) to become aware of what’s around them. What can they see and what can they hear?
  • Less behaviour issues for the students that need a lot of movement or who feel confined in a classroom with four walls
  • Increased problem-solving ability
  • Students are more willing to take risks
  • Learning how to play outside and build an appreciation for nature versus electronics


  • Internal email
  • Share on the board-wide Early Learning platform
  • School newsletter
  • Newsletter
  • With the kindergarten lead at the board level
  • By taking the Learning Outside and Hands in the Dirt workshops, we were able to communicate with other local teachers about what we are doing at Macphail

Project Evaluation

The project was a success on many levels, which is based on team building and the opportunity to seek out professional development that is actionable and could be implemented on a timely basis. We have seen a significant increase in time spent outdoors and in our attached forest.

The hardest piece was the timeline to implement the outdoor learning space. The board’s timelines for purchasing and approval does not match the grant’s timelines – this will continue to be a multi-year project in order to fully accomplish our outdoor learning environment (i.e., seating, sandbox, stage, mud kitchen).

There is a great future opportunity to connect with community partners to further develop these areas in our schoolyard.


Resources Used

Forest School and Outdoor Learning in the Early Years by Sara Knight

The Outdoor Classroom in Practice, Ages 3-7: A month-by-month guide to forest school provision by Karen Constable


Scientists in the School is an organization that visits schools and provides a workshop for students.