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Hotchalk Global

news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Skin Makes Us Waterproof

It rained today where I live. Now, you may not think that’s really a big deal, but you need to know that I live and work in San Jose, California. Sure, our winters ARE our rainy season, but you wouldn’t think that our students EVER saw rain, to see them react to it actually coming into contact with their actual bodies.

And, again, this wouldn’t really be a big deal, but today I taught outside. Considering that I teach technology inside a computer lab, I guess this part could be considered a big deal. We didn’t take the PCs out in the rain. But we did have computers with us. Sort of.

I took each of my three fifth grade classes geocaching on campus. We modified the hobby/sport of geocaching to go along with a novel the fifth graders have been reading, Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet. (This idea is totally NOT my own. See here: CLICKY!) I got the idea from North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction, and then I worked with my fifth grade teachers a few years ago to develop a version we could do on our campus in about 45 minutes. This is especially timely as the fifth graders leave tomorrow for their Outdoor Education trip, the theme of which is survival skills. (In case you’re not familiar with the story of Hatchet, the main character suddenly finds he has to survive alone in the Canadian wilderness.)

My kids are just going up to Sebastopol, not Canada, and they’ll be sleeping indoors, but the curriculum there is all about survival skills. That’s why the game (see HERE for my materials) is perfect to play the day before they leave. The rain today was just a bonus.

As the second of the three classes set off in search of camouflage-painted mint tins, the skies opened up. It wasn’t POURING to someone like me who grew up in New Jersey, but the kids were a little freaked out at first. I reassured them that their skin is more or less waterproof and they wouldn’t immediately die from that wet stuff in the sky. But it set me to thinking.

I had only just started reading Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder when this semester of grad school derailed my “leisure” reading, but I had already gotten the major premise: we are raising a nation of children who don’t know, understand, or appreciate the natural world around them. Whether it’s over-protective parents – quite rightly shielding their children from the very dangerous prospect of abduction – or just a couch potato society that stays indoors, plays video games, and shuns anything soily, Americans are growing up obese and clueless about the beauty that exists all around them.

No longer do they go out and run around in the rain (you might get wet), the sun (you might overheat or get skin cancer), or the park (do you have any idea who hangs out in parks?!?!). Maybe it’s because we parents work so many extra hours that we can’t easily supervise our kids outdoors and we’re scared by the evils of modern society to let them out of our sight. I get it. Really, I do. Shucks, I’m in grad school. (Translation: I spent this entire past weekend in my pajamas, working on three projects for two classes on my laptop and in Skype with group partners.)

But last weekend, my kindergartner spelunked in his first cave. We also cautiously avoided falling off the edges of cliffs overlooking the ocean. And we climbed and played in the most amazing tree ever. And we emptied sand out of our shoes. And we played in a new playground. And we ate pizza. (Okay, that last one we could have done at home, granted . . .) We took a forty-minute drive over some nearby mountains to Santa Cruz where we did some geocaching, took some pictures, and sought out some spontaneous adventure. Other than the money for gas and pizza, it cost us nothing that day.

Geocaching is just one engaging way to get kids outdoors to learn about and come to love our environment. It’s something I do myself, with my family and friends, and with my students, so it’s a geeky gadget-wielding outdoor activity I can comment on. But there is so much else we can be doing to get kids outdoors and moving around: cycling, hiking, cleaning up creeks or beaches, rock climbing, horseback riding. Find your thing and get your kids into it too.

Humans learn best when we’re having fun. (Seriously, one of my grad school classes is about this very thing.) Movement during learning is a great way to reach those learners who otherwise feel trapped in chairs and desks lined up neatly in rows. I have never had a student groan with displeasure at “having to go geocaching.” By contrast, they always want to know when we’re going to do it again.

Both images were taken by Diane Main ©2009.

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