I recently presented at the annual Classroom to Communities Conference up at the University of British Columbia with my two colleagues that teach with me at our little outdoor learning school. We are a new program, only two and half years in and we build, grow and develop our program each year. This year we took the plunge and decided to showcase our school. We decided to present what building an outdoor learning program looks like and invite educators and other community participants into the world of outdoor learning.
We shared our story, offered our successes and challenges and then opened the circle up to questions. One of the participants asked me “What is in your wagon?” My first response was…everything I need to teach outdoors, it’s my compact classroom. We invited the participants to come and explore what we each take outside to make our outdoor time successful.
This post today is to take a glimpse into my compact classroom. Just as each indoor classroom is unique to the individual teacher so are our wagons. It took me a full year of mishaps and successes to build my compact classroom wagon. From finding ways to protect our paper from raindrops to figuring out a clever and compact way to carry a class set of pencils, pencil crayons, markers and more. At the beginning of this year and a whole summer of searching I came up with my classroom wagon. I have no doubt it will change throughout the year and morph into something more but so far so good. Below are some images of how I use and incorporate the tools in my wagon during an outdoor learning lesson. I will also post where to find the containers and tools I use in my wagon for storage in the resource section of this webpage.
I purchased a foldable wagon for easy transport to and from field trips. Inside it holds two plastic bins with lids, a soft foldable craft caddy, a foldable water resistant picnic blanket and 6 garden trowels in the front pockets.
I want to start with the two plastic carrier bins as these are my go to tools for outdoor explorations. In the larger bin, I have 6 large magnifying glasses, and a smaller bin of 6 magnifying viewing boxes. I also keep a role of string, a handful of pipettes, breathable collecting containers, a first aid kit and a waterproof Ipad cover. The reason I choose to only carry 6 of each as it encourages the children to work in groups as well as they know that they must stay with their group of 4 at all times. This keeps them aware and safe when we are out exploring and observing. I also keep a box of tissues, hand sanitizer and compostable wet wipes for muddy hands.
In the smaller bin, I keep a class set of plastic clipboards for the students to write on. I also have a small stack of waterproof paper for the extra rainy days that we have written observations planned.
The water resistant picnic blanket as been a favourite since I added this year (I actually have two we use for our school environment) It creates a soft and dry place to sit on damp grass or hard concrete. I do recommend a water resistant blanket as you don’t usually have the time to hang and dry cotton blankets.
The above photo is my creative solution for transporting and organizing class sets of small materials. Last year I tried hard plastic pencil cases for the pencils, markers, and pencil crayons. This led to a lot of space being taken up, and its space I didn’t have as I would often have to leave other key learning tools out. The paper would often get wrinkled or wet and I never had space for extra resource books, rulers, or organic waste bags. I wracked my brain figuring out how to solve this space and messy chaos. I was eating lunch over the summer with my mom and she had her scrapbooking supplies out on the table. I noticed her carrier bag she used for her supplies and the light bulb went out. I snapped a photo of the label and set of in search of finding the perfect organizing carrier. It has been a blessing. The students know the place of all the supplies and they are able to put everything back perfectly. It stores paper, scissors, rulers, bags, resource books and every writing tool we need.
Having my compact classroom in my wagon has made outdoor learning that much easier. I am able to have my students unpack and set up in different areas. It gives them a sense of ownership and responsibility for their learning practices.
I also wanted touch on other ways you can create your own compact classroom. I have colleagues who have created an outdoor backpack for each of their students to take with them. Instead of everything going into one wagon, the students have their own backpacks with the learning tools they need to be outside. I love this idea, as they can also add outdoor gear such as clothing items, water bottles and any other individual items they feel they may need to be successful.
Despite which method is used some of the things to take into account when creating your compact classroom are:
- Waterproof or resistance containers: It is frustrating and messy if things get and stay wet.
- Hit up the thrift shops, online market places, and garage sales. Most of these kinds of things you will find if you’re patient.
- Know your comfort level: wagons are great for small areas with covered places to learn or dry days. Backpacks are great for longer trips and wetter days.
- Always ask: Will your PAC (parent advisor committee) or school district help out in funding some of these things.
- Remember…your students will always find things to explore and be curious about. Be in the moment and never worry if your wagon, backpack, ipad, etc is close by. Take it in the moment, always.