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  • Writer's pictureKaren MacLean

The Outdoors has a Trick or Two up Its Sleeve (Outdoor Learning Tools part 3)

Updated: Oct 3, 2022

One of the ways that the outdoors and nature are incomparable teachers is that they take the art of strewing to a whole new level. Strewing, you ask, what is that?

Strewing is the art of leaving around objects that spark attention and curiosity and draw learners down the rabbit hole of learning. Strewing is – to paraphrase Tigger – what nature does best. Anyone who has taken a walk with a small child – or an older one – has experienced how a trail of ants across the sidewalk or funny-shaped leaves on the neighbor’s tree, or a strange and disgusting/delicious smell can capture children’s interest to the point where it can be impossible to drag them away. Nature is full of strewing!

Children who are utterly disinterested in a unit on birds can be drawn in and fired up by an expedition to encounter as many birds as humanly possible! To fully benefit from strewing, it’s important not to start with books or lectures but to let nature – or the outdoors, if you haven’t got very much nature – do the work for you.

Strewing works first of all by playing to our human delight in novelty, and although it is great to practice strewing in a classroom, nature ups the ante by captivating ALL our senses. A picture of an ant is one thing; a convoy of ants is entirely different! We can observe those ants up close, watch how they walk and see if they’re carrying anything, or whether any of them take off in other directions or what happens if we (gently) obstruct their path. We can wonder where they’re going (or coming from) and try to explore both directions.

As teachers, we tend to think that a video about ants (to stay with this example) is better because we can get so much closer and so many things about the ants can be conveyed in one fell swoop. But a video cuts our senses and our agency out. We don’t share an environment with the ants – with all the smells and sounds and landscapes – and we can’t decide when to zoom in or what direction to take our exploration.

Nature’s trump cards in the strewing department are our senses and our ability to engage. That’s why depending on nature or the outdoors to spark your students’ curiosity and draw them into learning is so efficient and effective.

This blog is part of the series about outdoor teaching for indoor people.

Click here to read part 1: Outdoor Teaching for Indoor People

Click here to read part 2: Who is the Teacher Here?

Click here to read part 4: The Many Hats of Teaching


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