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Students' outdoor lesson by land trust focuses on the senses

Sitting on tree stumps in the woods on a Friday afternoon, first- and second-graders closed their eyes and stuck their hands into six different brown paper bags being held by their teachers or Shane Gibson, Sycamore Land Trust’s environmental education director.

Posted: Sep 14, 2020 8:32 AM

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Sitting on tree stumps in the woods on a Friday afternoon, first- and second-graders closed their eyes and stuck their hands into six different brown paper bags being held by their teachers or Shane Gibson, Sycamore Land Trust’s environmental education director.

They exchanged glances as they kept quiet about what they thought was in each bag, then quickly raised their hands as soon as Gibson asked them to guess the items they had felt but not seen.

“No. 3 was a turtle shell from a box turtle,” Gibson said.

“I knew it!” some students said.

This school year, Gibson is partnering with the Cedars Christian School to teach students using the classroom found in the great outdoors. On Friday, Gibson met with first- and second-graders in their outdoor classroom space in the woods near the school on South Endwright Road southwest of Bloomington.

Cedars Christian School provides hybrid schooling for preschoolers through seventh-graders, meaning students attend Cedars Christian School on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and are at home on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Heather Ummel, vice principal of the school, said on the days students are at home, they have work assigned from their teachers, but also work on what their parents have planned.

“There’s a lot more to life than only sitting in a classroom and learning, so that’s kind of the big picture of why we’re a hybrid,” she said.

It was Gibson’s second time with the students and he built off of his first lesson, which was about using students’ five senses to be aware of one’s surroundings.

“When I start with a school group in the beginning of the year, I like to start with awareness and observation,” he said. “Because everything we do after that we can build on it, of just being in tune to the little things, you know, all the insects that are just buzzing around us right now.”

Gibson began his lesson by reading a book to students; then they did sensory activities. With their eyes closed, students guessed what was making a noise created by Gibson, such as deer antlers being rubbed together. Then they headed off on a scavenger hunt.

“When you hear an owl call, that means you have to come meet back here as a group,” Gibson said.

Students mimicked the hoot of an owl to demonstrate, then roamed through the surrounding field and woods, clipboards and crayons in hand, searching for things like animal tracks or something red. Once Gibson did an owl call, they moved to the next activity, sitting at picnic tables and using rubber molds of animal tracks and ink to stamp the prints onto pieces of paper. Then they finished up the afternoon by collecting insects with sweep nets.

Gibson’s visits are part of something at the school called “look and see,” which happens Friday afternoons. Ummel said this time is used to focus on learning about God’s creation. Those afternoons consist of service projects, field trips or other exploration activities such as kayaking. Ummel said they hope to help with trail maintenance now that the school is working with Sycamore Land Trust.

“Since we believe that God created the outdoors, how amazing to be able to spend time actually learning about the whole creation around us,” Ummel said.

The Monarch Environmental Education Endowment, which was created just over five years ago, allows the programming to be offered for free, Gibson said.

“Sycamore saw a need that to continue protecting land, we need to get people of all ages and all ability levels connected and engaged because they might be our next conservationist,” Gibson said. “They might be that next person who wants to donate land, who wants to help protect land. So we’re hoping to instill that love of nature and awareness of the world around them.”

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