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Morning Routines

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It is a half hour passed the mid-point of the morning. Or perhaps I should just say 6:30 in this digital age and no doubt many are just now waking up to the sound of a beep upon their bedside table ready to start their morning routine. They will hit snooze, pretending they have given themselves other options but eventually they will recognize they have only prolonged the inevitable. They all get up, brush their teeth, get dressed, send their children off to school and begin their morning drive.

The very word “routine” seems to me nothing more than an attempt to create a fancier synonym for “rut” or “rat race”.

This morning, like most mornings I have left early on my occupational sojourn. I too must gladly fill my daily task knapsack with those same items as my neighbours however I have made it a “routine” of my own to make the children’s lunches the night before, place them in the fridge overnight and when I awake in the morning before even the early bird stirs I place those lunches within their school bags, have clothes for the day set out for the younger ones and have placed boots and jackets by the staircase.

I must mention that I could not enjoy my mornings thus without the approval and support of my wife. It has always been true that I have been the Rooster to her Owl. And when we had infants she would look after any feedings until 1 am and I gladly looked after feedings after 3 am. It was only that “no man’s land” of those two hours between that we would look at each other with forlorn.

But I digress and feel I must return to where I began.

Today I am working with high school teachers from Brampton and Mississauga on team building, wellness and collaboration. The school I am to be at for 8:30 is in the southern part of the City and as I live well north of the city lights and traffic I make use of my time to get as far as I can before the beeping of the alarm clock on my neighbours’ acts as a starting pistol for their day.

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And so, I find myself sitting at Lakeside Promenade Park in Mississauga at 6:30 am. As the first line of this refection states the morning is over half over and most have not even started their day.

I sit on a bench with a small paper notebook, a felt tipped pen and my copy of Walden by Henry David Thoreau at my side. The sun was barely hinting at its intention over Lake Ontario when I sat down but by the time I have written what I have thus far Apollo’s chariot has risen and the silhouette of the Toronto skyline can be seen.

It is my favourite time of day and I’m thrilled that it happens twice each day. At dusk as well as at dawn the sky can be full of colour whilst everything on the land below is still in shadows.

It’s mid November and the diving ducks have gathered and are flying along the shoreline  with rapid intent but not quite ready to continue their migration across the vast lake – once more reminding me of my neighbours and their snooze buttons.

As well as the Mergansers and Scaup I see a few beautiful Buffleheads and even a pair of majestic Swans nearer the shoreline.

Meanwhile the sound of the City behind me, now at almost 7 am must be occurring but is veiled from my hearing by the light lapping of the water, the distance gossip of the Canada Geese and the whistling wings of those diving ducks on a serious mission to go no where in particular.

Being November I stopped by on my way here to grab a Starbucks coffee, a simple Grande Bold for while I do not dismiss the desires of others to have flavours that imitate a coffee to taste like a pie or a fruit, I have always been simple in the regard.

And I think that is exactly why I am sitting here.

As part of our  #Walden21st book talk taking Thoreau’s lessons on mindfulness and essentialism we have been given the task of simulating Thoreau’s morning designs. By his own words he attested to be a “worshipper of Aurora”. This is the reason I am writing these thoughts down. Almost anyone that knows me can attest to my early mornings but beyond that I refuse to get caught up in what could only be described as a different or just an earlier routine.

Some mornings I sit upon my back porch with a coffee and read the news. Other dawns see me going for a run and contemplating the day ahead. And still others, like today have me sitting in a natural spot and watching the rest of both civilization – and separately -even my fellow Homo Sapiens begin their “routines”

My father in Alberta often told me growing up that “real cowboys don’t line dance – they’d rather hold their loved one in their arms”. Whilst I find myself each morning dancing to the music we all hear, my own “routine” strives to allow me to take the lead and not get caught up in the automated dance so many others find themselves facing.

I promise myself that these are my last lines as I must head off to begin setting up for the day of mindfulness and character education ahead. Not only that but my fingers are now feeling the November chill even with the sun rising over the City.  I have enjoyed sharing this moment with the ducks, the water and the dormant trees in the park to begin my day and it has left me with both a peaceful feeling of being in control of my day ahead and at the same time with a determination and sense of purpose for the day.

That sense of purpose tastes even better than the coffee.

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A Journey with Walden, A Collaborative Modern Learning Book Talk on the Importance of an #EnviroEd Classic

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“To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem.”~ Thoreau, Walden 

Henry David Thoreau first published Walden in 1854. He described his own personal experiences living in an almost fully self-sustaining way. By immersing himself in nature he aspired to gain more of an understanding of his place and purpose through his own 19th Century version of a spiritual journey . By taking into account the values of self-efficiency, self-reflection and the spirit of essentialism, Thoreau influenced generations on the critical value of nature to one’s wellbeing.

Today, over 160 years later, we may not find to time to experience our own 2 year “sit spot” as Thoreau did but many the educator can see the value in such a project. This leads to one contemplating what a likeminded social experiment would look like in our current era.

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Paul Kelba (Sustainability Consultant, Calgary Board of Education) and Rob Ridley, (Field Centres Coordinator, Peel District School Board) are inviting participants in both elementary and secondary panels to participate in a book talk on Thoreau’s “Walden”. During the month of November, participants will read the classic, discuss the significance of Thoreau’s writings in modern society and discuss teaching strategies around the book.

Participants will be asked to partake in two bi-weekly Twitter chats using the #EnviroEd hashtag. As well, participants will be using and responding via Flipgrid (online sharing platform) on highlights and epiphanies they experience during the book talk. They will be encouraged to use other sharing (personal blogs, journal, podcasts) to reflect upon their learning and reflections.

No previous knowledge of Walden is required.

The organizers as also excited to introduce participants to the concept of gamification of Nature Philosophy as this professional learning progresses via the interactive video game: Waldengame http://waldengame.com 

This excerpt is taken from the game developers’ website:

Walden, a game is a first person simulation of the life of American philosopher Henry David Thoreau during his experiment in self-reliant living at Walden Pond. The game begins in the summer of 1845 when Thoreau moved to the Pond and built his cabin there.

Players follow in his footsteps, surviving in the woods by finding food and fuel and maintaining their shelter and clothing. At the same time, players are surrounded by the beauty of the woods and the Pond, which hold a promise of a sublime life beyond these basic needs. The game follows the loose narrative of Thoreau’s first year in the woods, with each season holding its own challenges for survival and possibilities for inspiration.

The audience for the game is broad: from experimental game players to lovers of Thoreau and Transcendental literature. As such, the game offers more opportunities for reflective play than strategic challenge. The piece has a subtle narrative arc, in homage to the original text, which is not an adventure of the body pitted against nature, but of the mind and soul living in nature over the course of a New England year.

The book talk will discuss topics such as nature imagery, essentialism, self as well as literary reflection, wellbeing, connection to the outdoors, and more. This would be an excellent initiative for Humanities, English, Philosophy, Sociology teachers as well as any educator looking for ideas and reasons to discuss best practices for sustainability, environmental education and wellbeing of oneself and their learners.

If interested in joining in, please contact Pekelba@cbe.ab.ca or Rob Ridley, rob.ridley@peelsb.com Space is limited and available equally to both Boards. 

Upon enrollment educators will be provided free access to ‘Waldengame’ for their self and students as well as tips on accessing Walden the book.

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 81 Hard Conversations? Take a Hike!

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Photo via Pixabay.com

I recall when younger that when my father needed to have a frank conversation with me he would sometimes invite my fishing. We’d be out in the canoe on Cook’s Bay on Lake Simcoe with our fishing rods in the water for half an hour or so before he’d say;

“There’s something I wanted to talk about …”

Now, for the most part I wasn’t a rebellious teen and these conversations were more focused on “bad news” or big changes rather than my own behaviours. Nevertheless these conversations were always easier for him and for myself when we were outdoors. We were both less worried about interruptions and able to we stare out to the water as we had those frank heart to hearts.

It’s important to note as well that we fished often. We did not go out just for these hard conversations but all the time. If it was the only time we’d go out I’m sure an invitation to go fishing would have been something I would have avoided after a time or two. Luckily, I grew up in a family where being outdoors was almost always the answer and this very occasionally meant for those hard conversations as well as for every other reason (and sometimes no reason at all).

I’ve followed suit. With my own kids and in my profession I’ve promoted the concept of restorative practices and hard conversations in an outdoor setting. I’ve mentioned this before in posts and speaking engagements such as why I believe the campfire is the perfect 21st century learning tool. There is something about being able to discuss issues around the ambiance of a fire that allows a person to be open and honest with others.

As someone who sees the impact of restorative practices while working with youth I feel it is all the more enhanced when we take those conversations out of “her office” or “his classroom” and into a shared peaceful setting.

The same thing goes with walking side by side down a path. Both conversationalists trekking towards a dual purpose destination of both location and purpose.

Hugh McPherson, a retired principal who was my predecessor in my current role once told me I had a “plum” position. He said; “Rob, when you have a disagreement with staff –  you don’t say, ‘come into my office’ – instead you say, come for a walk on the trail with me.”

And he was right – by the time we’ve done a loop on the trail we may not agree – but we do understand each other better.

Once more though it’s important to note that we have those treks as staff to design program, share successes and learn about our own natural world. This way a walk with “the boss” is not something to fear.

So you’re challenge this week as educators is to give this a try … rather than have those hard conversations over a desk or in other confrontational settings … allow the outdoors and the natural world to help relieve the tension, at least a little by providing some fresh air thinking.

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 80 Autumn Edition of #Kindergartenbioblitz Sept 11-15, 2017

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#Kindergartenbioblitz began over 4 years ago with an attempt to “extend the experience” of environmental education at our Peel District School Board’s Outdoor Education Centres. We strive to build a relationship with students and classes that goes well beyond the one day field trips we offer and instead be “available” as environmental resources year round. This allows us to foster and encourage a spirit of natural inquiry.

Very quickly, the ridiculously long hashtag caught on beyond our school board to the point where countries in every hemisphere tend to take part.

If interested, you can check out other blog posts on this website or have a look at this Steller story for a step by step guide on how to participate.

The September version of this event is at a superb time in North America as many school systems are starting up again and this grants both teachers and students early permission to step outside and explore their own yards with the help of naturalists who do not just answer their questions about what they find – but also continue to ask the students more questions about their discoveries.

There are other benefits as well.

  • Some teachers by responding to other classes discoveries end up creating class relationships and even a “pen” or “video” pals scenario with their students.
  • Students are introduced into learning outdoors and how to prepare for it in all weather.
  • Learners are introduced to how others perceive their own backyards that they may take for granted.
  • Educators help students formulate and even write their own questions thereby allowing them to take the lead in this initiative.

There are many PLN’s around the world that encourage outdoor play. #Kinderchat, #EnviroEd #ReggioPLC, #umweltbildung and others. Many of these promote our #kindergartenbioblitz as we lead into it – however both these and your own district hashtags (ie #peel21st, #yycbe, etc) can be used to get other classes involved as well.

Let us know you’ll be participating this month! Send a tweet & either tag myself (@RangerRidley) or use the hashtag to promote to your PLN’s!

Looking forward to exploring this school year with you no matter where you are!

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 79 #KindergartenBioBlitz turns 4 years old

 

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It’s hard to believe 4 years ago this week we started our #KindergartenBioBlitz initiative in my own local school board. The initial concept was to try to “extend the experience” of our outdoor education centres by compelling our local classes to explore their own backyards over the period of a school week.

By the second day though the power of social media become clear as it has spread beyond my own school board into other provinces. Teachers in Calgary, Alberta and elsewhere began to contribute as well.

It was such a success that we decided that we should try to do it three times each year. Now it runs the first full week of June, the second full week of September and the last week of February every year. Here’s a Steller story for classes how to take part for those wishing to participate. 

Kindergarten classes from every hemisphere now take part and share what they’ve discovered in their own backyards.

The power of collaboration is immense. I recall a few years back during a #KindergartenBioBlitz session sharing a photo of a Striped Skunk that was on my own front lawn early one morning as I left to work. By the time I did the 40 minute drive classes from Australia were responding to that photo excited to see a “Pepe LePew” as they felt they didn’t have anything that “cool” in their school yards. They only had kookaburra and Kangaroos – this of course lead classes in North America to respond that they had never seen these animals before.

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#KindergartenBioBlitz is a ridiculously large hashtag with ridiculously large potential for both connecting your class to their local environment and to other classes around the world.

So I challenge you to get your class involved – Join in from June 5-9th, 2017 for our fourth anniversary. Share, respond to others, question other classes and enjoy. For when one takes the time to explore their own community it doesn’t take long to recognize that nothing – in or out of this world is ordinary or plain.

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 78 “KindergartenBioBlitz, Seasons Changing Edition”

 

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Spring is coming, spring is coming … seriously, no matter what that fortune-telling rodent in your neck of the woods says, it will be coming. But what if you don’t have “groundhogs” or “woodchucks” in your region? How do you tell how the seasons are changing?

Four years ago, in an effort to “extend the experience” of environmental education beyond the day trip we created the #kindergartenbioblitz. Although an insanely large hashtag, it is also an insanely collaborative venture into the realm of natural inquiry for early years teachers.

Although originally meant for teachers within my own Board, it quickly spread to other regions and is now a global phenomenon. Three times a year this week-long inquiry is offered and the February/March version is focussed on the fact that in many parts of the world the seasons are beginning to change. This edition of the ‘blitz will run from Monday, February 27 to Friday, March 3, 2017. 

Each day of the week students are asked a different leading question to help start the investigations of their schoolyard communities. Here is a “story” on how to participate yourself if you have not to this point.

 

Melting ice, the first migrating species returning, or the maple sap being collected and starting to boil with the taste of syrup in the air. Depending on where you are, this time year means different things to different people.

And that’s one of the most powerful things about the #kindergartenbioblitz. It allows classes to not only participate and speak to naturalists about what they are seeing but more importantly ask each other questions about where they live.

When classes from Australia or Chile explain to those in North America that it is not spring where they live, or when classes in Singapore ask classes in other places what seasons even are like since they do not tend to experience them in the same ways it leads to all sorts of questions between students from around the world.

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Locally, we attempt to tie in the Britannia Farm Sugar Bush into the venture to allow students world-wide to experience through video, stories, and daily updates what Ontario’s First Harvest of the year is all about and how it relates to early spring.

So introduce the concept to this year’s class. Set aside the dates (Monday, Feb 27-Friday March 3, 2017). Remember the hashtag #kindergartenbioblitz (some teachers will even begin the day by looking and responding to what other classes have already shared that week). Most important of all though, get ready to investigate, wonder and experience how the seasons change around the world!

 

#EnviroEd Chat – Jan 2 – Jan 6 2017

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Been going squirrelly without your dose of #EnviroEd chat the last couple of weeks?

Many the educator is still on a holiday or winter break but with school starting up again right around the corner no doubt you are already thinking of your first days back in the classroom.

As such here in North America, Paul Kelba and myself have decided to run #EnviroEd chat in a way that is both respectful of family time and yet hopefully thought-provoking and conversation starting.

So this week there will be one question sent out every weekday by either Paul or myself for our outstanding #EnviroEd PLN to discuss and explore.

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Like every #EnviroEd chat over the last number of years be they hosted in North America or Australia this week’s chat will be archived via Storify.

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 77 Connect with Nature for #MentalHealth

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Monday, October 10th was World Mental Health Day. More and more mental health is becoming less stigmatized. I think my own school board has done a tremendous job in recognizing this through continuous campaigns such as Stand Up.

This year’s theme is Connect with Nature for good mental health and well-being. People are being encouraged to explore and find a connection to the outdoors that they have either not found enough time for, have forgotten or perhaps never considered int he first place. Folks are sharing – and the potential for inspiration is real.

The outdoors and nature have always been super for relieving stress and anxiety. Everyone has (or should have!) their favourite spot that they wish they were at when things get though. Perhaps it is the deck, a cottage, a favourite campsite or a boardwalk.

Perhaps you look forward to a walk on your favourite municipal trail at the end of a day after supper or just can’t wait to see the lights of the city from the balcony after twilight over the lake. It’s a shame, but in some cases with busy schedules, family dynamics, etc the only way kids may find their own stress relieving sense of place is when out on a walk in your community with your class.

Explore those local green spaces – bring your students out and witness the metamorphosis  in some.

For a long time our field centres staff have been requested to work with classes for team building initiatives. We have our Bag of Tricks program and low ropes initiatives that focus on team work, fair play, planning for success and time management.

Our high ropes course focusses on self actualization, in other words what you as an individual can achieve more than the rest of the team.

A number of schools in the last few years have been requesting our staff to come into the schools through our community based environmental education or even focus our field trip opportunities on mental health strategies as well. Restorative justice can be easier when staring into the flames of a campfire to debrief. Along the same lines powerful conversations can happen when fishing with students or walking side by side down a path with them.

Imagine if we had the ability or time to take students we would usually send to the “Responsibility Room” for a short walk down to the retention pond or around the block for  a discussion?

So this week, and of course beyond, I challenge everyone to consider their own mental health and that of their charges when we step outside … Share what you can and I’d love your thoughts on this.

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 76 #ClassTrekking

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In Ontario where I live the first week of October each year is Ontario Hiking Week. This year that will be celebrated from October 1 to October 7th.

It’s a wonderful time of year to explore our region. While in the southern part of the province perhaps the most stunning colours have not yet come to their peak – they shall later this month. Trees along roadsides, at the edge of the forests or perhaps trees under a wee bit of stress are likely already changing no matter where your school or community exists if in Canada or the northern US.

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It’s also a great time of year to get out and explore as hiking is one of the easier things to do with a class in both an urban or rural setting. It’s a super way to get to know your class (or faculty I say to the administrations out there!)

Bring a book, a snack, a camera for photos to continue the discussion back in the school.

So this week I challenge classes of all ages to get out and do some trekking, share and encourage others to do so as well by sharing on social media using the hashtag #classtrekking.

 

 

Weekly Challenge for #EnviroEd # 75 #KindergartenBioBlitz Starting the Year with Outdoor Inquiry Sept 12-16

 

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For 4 years now we’ve hosted #KindergartenBioBlitz which has become a global collaboration that engages young learners to explore their own school yards for nature.

This directed, yet not directed inquiry allows students to explore, wonder, wander and share their discoveries with not only naturalists like myself and others but also with other classes around the world.

A year or so ago we created a Steller story which is a wonderful tool to help a teacher interested in joining in for the first time.

Without a doubt the highlight for myself is when classes begin asking or answering each other and not waiting for the naturalists (trust me – we’ve just as eager – but often out in the field when the tweet is sent!)

It’s a great way to start the school year – to engage outdoor learning, with other like-minded teachers from around the world.

Hope you join in next week and share with others!