Outdoor education provides an excellent opportunity to help students connect with nature, discover new talents, and grow in their respect for classmates and teachers. These past two days my colleagues and I have been running an outdoor education program for our 5th and 6th graders, with tremendous results.

Each activity we plan is intentionally as hands-on as possible. For example, some of the lessons include First Aid in the Wilderness, How to Properly Prepare a Fire and Cook in the Wild, Identifying Edible and Medicinal Plants and their Uses, Bird Watching and Identifying, Rock and Mineral Identification, Night Sky Watch, and Craft Making with Natural Materials.

As you can see, these lessons differ quite a bit from traditional school subjects, so they also require a different setting. In the past our activities have taken place at a dairy farm, in the woods, near a pond, and out in canoes on a river. We take advantage of whatever is nearby.

While this kind of program requires quite a bit of planning, it provides priceless lessons and the students always enjoy it. From an organization standpoint, here’s how it works: we divide our students (this year there were 64 of them) into groups of eight and rotate them through 90-minute stations, each led by one of us teachers.

This year one of my responsibilities was to run the craft station. My idea for the project came from a Pinterest post on how to make owls from toilet paper rolls. Basically all you have to do is press down and crease one half of the top and then the other to create the ears. After that, it’s completely up to you how you would like to decorate it. I loved seeing all of the creative ideas our students came up with. It wasn’t long before wings, 3D beaks, tails and feet were making appearances on the owls.

To give the project more of a nature feel, I had each student gather a branch that to glue their owls to. They also collected pine needles or leaves to accent their project. Some students put two or three owls on one branch. Others created families of four or five. I had plenty of rolls, so I allowed them to make as many as they wanted.

In today’s world, it’s so easy for kids to spend too much time indoors in front of a TV or computer. That’s why I feel it’s important for teachers and parents to intentionally engage students in active outdoor activities. In addition to boosting their health, it will build their confidence and can helpĀ strengthenĀ healthy relationships that become so valuable to students as they enter their teenage years.