Teacher Mardelle Sauerborn works with her class in the outdoors.

Teacher Mardelle Sauerborn works with her class in the outdoors.

Sparwood teacher promotes outdoor learning

Frank J Mitchell Elementary School (FJMES) is exploring the many benefits of outdoor education through their ‘knooks’ project.

Frank J Mitchell Elementary School (FJMES) is exploring the many benefits of outdoor education through their ‘knooks’ project.

The terms ‘knook’ was coined by the woman behind the idea, FJMES teacher Mardelle Sauerborn.

“The knooks project started a few years ago with just an idea that I had to get kids outdoors more,” the Kindergarten and Grade 1 teacher said. “What we found was one of the most powerful parts of being in outdoors spaces was really naming them and feeling a sense of ownership over them.”

With the ultimate goal of student’s being able to spend a quarter of their day in the outdoors, Sauerborn began working towards creating natural outdoor locations where the children could engage in what Sauerborn refers to as “free exploring.”

Leading her class to the forested area of FJMES’s field, the enthusiastic teacher encouraged her students to pick up natural resources and place them on outdoors stumps that have been arranged in a circle for the children to share and present their findings.

This space is just one of the many spaces Sauerborn and her students refer to as their ‘knook.’

“We began having a conversation about how they could take spaces that were already on school property and make them more accessible to kids,” Sauerborn said. “Kids can be out using outdoor spaces as natural space for exploring.”

After crafting the idea for an outdoor learning space for her students three years ago, FJMES began exploring the expansion of the program throughout the school.

Some of Sauerborn’s more recent ideas include a low ropes project, Geocaching and a community garden.

With several projects already in the works, the FJMES teacher noted, “We’re just starting to think about the possibilities. It’s lovely to see how quickly those things are snowballing into reality.”

For FJMES, learning in the great outdoors in essential to the student’s educational development.

The school hopes to expand the project to the older grades, where they will be able to partake in mapping projects, linking their outdoor learning to a series of in school curriculums.

Highlight the importance of this outdoor development, Sauerborn said, “When kids leave the school system, ultimately their recreation is going to come from them accessing what’s available in the community. We’re pretty blessed to live in a community that has so many outdoor opportunities to recreate.

As for the proposed community gardening project, Sauerborn said that she believes it’s essential for the community to reinvigorate the idea of growing your own food. She added that she hopes the students will have the opportunity to work with seniors in order to promote intergenerational learning.

Sauerborn has been working closely with FJMES principal Christine McKie, the Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) and School District 5 Trustee Bev Bellina, who continue to offer their support for the projects.

“Having all those people on board really gives the project legs in terms of actually moving forward,” Sauerborn added.

McKie stressed the importance of the knooks project, stating, “When we’re inside as much as we are, it’s really important to be in outdoor spaces because it puts things into perspective. Being small in a big place is an important part of development.”