A non-profit shows the benefits of learning through getting outside and getting your hands dirty
I recently found out about a nonprofit organization called Out Teach, which is focused on improving elementary school education in science through getting the kids outdoors. Reading through their website, I thought about the methods they encourage and similar lessons I’ve tried with my own kids when they were younger.
What Is Out Teach?
Out Teach provides resources for teachers and students to learn about the world around them. Through providing coaching and free lesson plans for teachers, they arm teachers with tools to get students excited about learning science and other STEM topics.
Out Teach originated with outdoor teaching through building and managing gardens and has now grown to include the “STEM Survival Club”. Out Teach’s Master Teachers lead after school and week-long camps focused on Inquiry-Driven Project-Based Learning. They focus on real world problems such as how to get and clean water.
What Drives Out Teach?
Stats from the Out Teach site give a clear picture of why they do what they do.
- 94% of teachers report that their students are more engaged
- 90% of teachers report that the training makes them better prepared to help their students
- Standardized test scores increase 12-15% overall
- Teachers report increased effectiveness and job satisfaction
These numbers clearly speak for themselves.
Our Own Garden
Out Teach focuses on educating their students through experiences in building and maintaining gardens. In these environments, students can watch the circle of life, learn to build something, take on new responsibilities and learn the satisfaction of the payoff from a job well done.
In 2016, my family took on this exact same exercise. We had an unused section of the yard and built our own raised garden. The kids took part in all aspects, from initial construction of the raised bed to planting the seeds and watering them. Over the past six years, our garden has fed us potatoes, Jersey tomatoes, peppers and asparagus.
Just like the Out Teach concept, this was an excellent learning experience. Our kids learned hands on skills like construction, maintaining the plants, weeding, and dealing with predators. They learned that potato beetles are predators that are almost impossible to get rid of, but the secret is to plant mint. Then they learned that mint, left unchecked, will overtake an entire raised flower bed!
My kids also learned important skills like project planning, how different seeds need to be planted at different times, the responsibility of owning and taking care of life, construction skills and even the concepts of crop rotation. Last year, we gave the vegetables a rest and went with all flowers. This allowed the soil to balance out its nutrients a bit. It didn’t stop the tomatoes from coming back, though! This year, we’re thinking about doing pumpkins!
The concepts taught by Out Teach more important than just maintaining a garden. Any time a parent or teacher engages children in hands-on learning, it draws that child in. It bounds them to the product of their labor. It sparks another level of interest and makes that child accountable.
I am lucky that I had the opportunity to build a garden with the kids and use it as a real-world learning experience. Out Teach is providing a similar service to school across the country. I encourage you to check them out, see if they could fit into your school’s education program and also make a donation.