• Karen MacLean

Who Is the Teacher Here? (Outdoor Learning Tools part 2)

Updated: Sep 21, 2021

When I was a child, the worst thing about family rambles in nature was my parents’ obsession with naming things. No plant, no bird, no stone on the path beneath our feet was exempt from their passion for finding out what it was called. I disliked it so much that I completely refused to learn bird calls or ways of distinguishing plants. To this day I can barely identify five different trees or birds.


When I had children of my own, I felt completely unqualified to take them to the beach and the forest, because I didn’t KNOW anything. It turns out that this is also a huge barrier for a lot of teachers, who feel that they can’t take their students outdoors before they themselves know everything there is to know about the topic at hand.


So, what to do if you are not a botanist, geologist, ornithologist and entomologist all rolled in one, but you still want to take your students outdoors and to nature?


Here it is immensely helpful to think of nature – or any outdoor space – as the third teacher. This is a concept borrowed from Reggio Emilio, where teachers think of the learning environment as a third teacher and design their learning spaces to be age appropriate and to engage and inspire the children. You don’t need to know any names, as long as you know how to help the children find out.


This may be a no brainer for teachers who are used to organizing classrooms in this way – even if they’ve never heard of Reggio Emilio.


It may take a little practice to shift from designing your own learning spaces, towards handing the reins to outdoor spaces and collaborating with them as if they were indeed, teachers themselves. Think of it as a preplanned, predesigned learning space to visit with your students!


This is the magic, the huge untapped potential of taking learning outdoors! By thinking of an outdoor space – a glade in the forest, a beach, or even a busy street – as a third teacher, you yourself are freed to explore with your students or be assistant teacher. And visits to one third teacher can lead directly to a visit to another third teacher – the library – to look up all the bits and bobs that we heard, saw, smelled, touched or tasted there!


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 3: Outdoor has a Trick or Two Up It’s Sleeve

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

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