Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Outdoor classroom

It's nearing the end of term and I'm exhausted and ennui is my default state of being. Anything more than that requires too much effort. Thankfully, JED are too young to articulate that even though I think they feel a little bit of it as well. They've been hard at work every day in school rehearsing for their graduation concert.

So, this morning, I decided it was time to cut everyone some slack, myself included. Instead of the regular table work that we do in the mornings, I take them out to a little mound of a hilltop that is across the road from my bedroom and kitchen window. No one really goes there except for elderly people taking walks round a 50m track. But surrounding it are trees on slopes of grass.

I tell the twins we are doing work outside. They stare at me in disbelief. They wonder why I am not carting their books and furniture out. All I do is send them out slathered with insect repellant holding on to a clipboard and a pencil (no eraser even!).

We make it up as we go along. And they are most excited. I set them tasks.

1. Counting steps. They count the stairs they have to go up. The answers aren't the same. They run up and down, counting, till they can agree on the number. It's 33, they tell me, panting.

2. Write down ten things that they see. They have to look all around and find ten things. Instead of just standing still in one spot and looking round, I push them onto the grass slopes and tell them to find a spot, squat down and write down what they see. Jordan doesn't just write down the things she sees, she draws them, in exact numbers. Evan illustrates it by drawing a symbol of it beside the word.  The most interesting things on their list? Roots that look like vines (Evan). A Squirrel (Jordan).

3. Pick up sticks; while the twins are busy scavenging around for things to list, I ask Muffin to pick up 5 sticks. When he does so, I ask him to arrange it from longest to shortest.

The twins see him do that and want to pick up sticks too. I make it a bit more challenging for them. I tell them that between the two of them, they have to find forty sticks of varying lengths and thicknesses and line them up from the longest to the shortest sticks. I leave it to them how they will divide out the labour between them. Muffin joins in and eventually they arrange them in descending order.

4. Build a road.
With the forty sticks they had painstakingly arranged, the next thing I ask them to do is to line them in a way that will create a road across the ground. It doesn't have to be straight but it has to be a continuous path. They declare their road a curly-wurly one. Obviously, the forty sticks weren't enough and they had to scavenge for more. It eventually took them 61 sticks to build their road. Muffin contributed the mother of all sticks.

5. A Root walk.
When all is done, I tell them they can't use the stairs to go back down. Evan proposes we walk on the tree roots, all the way down. The trees surrounding us were tall, old ones and their roots snaked all over the ground. Evan states that there are crocodiles in the water and the only way to get to safety is to follow a root path all the way down to the bottom. It requires them to map out which root they were going to hop onto next.

Five tasks that take about an hour for them to complete. Along the way, they point out to me moss on trees, a woodlouse and a tiny snail shell. I get them to touch the moss on the tree roots and we observe a squirrel scampering up and down a tree. They are sweaty and their hands incredibly grubby from dealing with sticks and poking around moss. We get home with enough time to wash up, have a drink and put on socks and shoes before heading back down to catch the bus. They are chuffed announcing to all and sundry that they didn't do work and they spent the morning picking up sticks.

Fooled them.


  1. Great activity! They actually learnt so much just from this morning session. You make an awesome parent in grooming exceptional kids!

  2. Awesome way to occupy/tire the kids ;) Must try this when mine are older!