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Fresh Air Backpacks

August 10, 2013


Every classroom teacher should feel confident and prepared to bring their students out of the class and into the out-of-doors. Now, what that means exactly is different for every class and every school. Bring a class outside in downtown New York City on a June day would be different from bringing a class from Calgary, Alberta outside in January for instance.

When I work with schools, one of my main priorities has always been to take that one day study of nature out at one of our Field Centres and help the classroom teacher make it into a month or year-long study of the subject at hand.

One of the best resources available to an elementary teacher is having a ready to go knapsack full of tools that can be brought out at a moment’s notice. These Fresh Air Backpacks are not meant to be more than a jumpstart for a teacher – but if every teacher had one of these and used it – no doubt they would quickly become tailored to your specific class, space and student needs and interests.

The knapsack itself needs to be large enough to hold what you wish to hold, but small enough that you and students can carry it comfortably in all weather. This means adjustable straps will go a long way or even your shoulders will be different when wrapped in a winter coat in January versus a t-shirt in September. As well consider stitching (even the most diligent young trekker will occasionally drag the pack along the ground) and durable zippers. The zipper quality is important. YKK zippers for instance are wonderful in cold, tend not to rust and I find are easily to clear of snags. I tend to look for YKK’s on my clothing choices as well.

Having made one of these Fresh Air backpacks myself recently I can tell you beyond the knapsack itself the entire cost of this initiative should be around $75/kit. That may seem like a lot for some schools, however it is not for one lesson but hopefully for many, many lessons for years to come. Even if a school was to have one per grade level I can guarantee that is a great start for every school.

I also know from experience that it makes perfect sense that this list evolves as you add your own interests, those of your students

  • Compact St John Ambulance First Aid Kit                                                                   — $10.95
  • 15 mini box magnifiers (from Boreal Science)                                                           –$36.50
  • 4 Peterson 1st Field Guides (one subject or many from Amazon)                     –$25.04
  • 1 compass (for mapping & community orientation from Scholar’s Choice)   — $4.00

(these items can come from anywhere, I just cited sites for pricing examples)

What you likely already have that should be included:

  • Cellphone – (the school will likely want to be able to get a hold of you if a parent comes while you are off site – or forbid! You need support due to injury, etc)
  • Some folks will use an FRS radio (Family Radio Service) instead of a cellphone – however, unless they are already used around the school – I would suggest these can be problematic as some of them carry the same frequencies as local taxi companies, tow trucks and other radio users.


  • Some people will add aquarium nets, (about $3.00/ea) however I find that nets will sometimes give permission for kids to not touch anything they find.
  • A book. There is always a chance to sit beneath the shade of a mature tree high on a hill or by a stream to read a story. This is something that likely should be changed once in a while but there is nothing wrong with a favorite staying in the bag as well.
  • Digital Camera – if your phone is not enough – having a camera can lead to not only memories for the year book and parent night but also for Comic Life narratives of your excursions and other lessons later.
  • Small Nerf or other soft ball for outdoor games that will hopefully “spring up” by chance
  • Ipad, tablets or other technology being used around the school
  • Paper & crayons for bark/leaf rubbings

My top 3 rules for a Fresh Air Backpack are thus:

1. It is important for teachers to remember with these Fresh Air Backpacks that student and teacher safety is paramount.  Ensure that inventory is checked frequently. It is annoying to say the least if you have a need for a band-aid but they have been depleted.

2. The pack needs to be accessible, ready to go, and light weight.

3. Most important of all though is that while I offer suggestions, you need to decide what is needed in your own pack … I’m just encouraging you to have one to allow you to head outside at anytime. And, along the same lines,  I would encourage it to evolve year to year as your students change and as you yourself change as an educator.

Okay, now it’s your turn. What do you feel needs to be in your version of a Fresh Air Backpack?


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