Assiginack Public School students will learn outside this spring

MANITOWANING—What student has never begged their teacher for the opportunity to have class lessons held outside on a beautiful spring day? For the students of Assiginack Public School, that dream will soon become a reality as the school, school council and municipality are all working together in the creation of a permanent outdoor classroom.

Recently, Assiginack municipal council passed a motion to donate $1,200 toward the purchase of two picnic tables—the beginnings of Assiginack Public School’s outdoor classroom.

“These unique classrooms provide the opportunity for the children to further their education in an outdoor environment,” Jennifer Hooper, school council chair, wrote in a letter to council. “Not only do they get to study nature, but they can take their in-class curriculum and study outside, which would provide a fresh change and encourage learning for the children.”

“When we look at the biodiversity of our schoolyard, it’s something we really want to take advantage of, combining it with curriculum,” explained Principal Margaret Stringer.

[pullquote]“When we look at the biodiversity of our schoolyard, it’s something we really want to take advantage of, combining it with curriculum,” explained Principal Margaret Stringer.[/pullquote]

The principal noted that studying outdoors is conducive to all subjects, not just science. In social studies, the students of Assiginack Public School are perfectly positioned to learn about the traditional trade routes of the Anishinaabek and the early European settlers, for example. The beauty of Manitowaning Bay, which can be seen from the schoolyard, might provide inspiration for art. “And what better way to encourage reading than by sitting under a shady tree on a spring afternoon,” Ms. Stringer added.

“We live in the most beautiful place in the world and instead of looking at it through a window, we aim to get out there,” she said.

The principal spoke of the collaborative nature of the outdoor classroom that combines the efforts of the school, the school (parent) council and the municipality, which graciously donated funds to the cause. The next step will be the creation of a permanent sunshade, but it is the hope of all the teachers that the classroom will be up and running by next month.

“To me, this is just common sense,” Ms. Stringer said. “We don’t want to raise our kids to be glued to desks and classrooms.”

[pullquote]“To me, this is just common sense,” Ms. Stringer said. “We don’t want to raise our kids to be glued to desks and classrooms.”[/pullquote]

Assiginack Public School is on an alternative learning adventure, it would seem, as the principal has also just approved the purchase of a handful of sit/stand desks (typically an adjustable desk that can extend from a typical sitting height to much taller to allow for a comfortable standing position), which will be put into trial use later this spring.

Many office workers, who are used to sitting for large quantities of each day, were horrified to learn recently that “sitting is the new smoking,” according to recently released medical journal articles, and the same can be said for children who sit for prolonged periods of time.

While breaking up our work days by standing is proven to be better for our health (even burning calories), it has also been documented by researchers at Texas A&M University that standing at their school desks improves children’s attention, on-task behaviour, alertness and classroom engagement.