Book Review: Learning beyond the classroom – The Art of Dirty Teaching!

by | Dec 25, 2018

During a coaching session with a primary school leader around Reggio Emilia pedagogy, the book I was reviewing, Dirty Teaching, came into our conversation. The immediate response was – “I love the title! Where can I get one?”

Dirty Teaching is jam packed with creative ideas for teachers of children between ages 6 to 12. The value of Dirty Teaching is that the ideas are practical and do not require excursions out of town! In fact, the ideas require minimal planning – a bonus for time-poor teachers – and are doable in the school playground or nearest local park. There are beautiful photos of children engaging with the ideas described in the book, which clearly illustrate what the activities look like in action.

Julie Robertson, the author of Dirty Teaching, defines outdoor learning from her perspective as – “making the most of any place or space outside of the traditional school walls … to innovatively inspire our children”. Julie invites us to reflect on our own experiences in nature and to think about how we respond differently in comparison to an indoor experience. If we consider for a moment our own strongest school memories, the chances are they will be about a time outdoors. I tested myself and sure enough was flooded with memories, one particularly stood out. It was my first day of school and it was pouring with rain. I remember that I was excited about wearing my brand new yellow raincoat as I stomped in the puddles … take a moment and see what comes to mind.

The time of day, the place, the nuances of the environment through the lens of the seasons, all provide the background for children to engage in personally meaningful learning experiences. In a time where “screens” seem to be dominating children’s learning and personal time, intentionally providing experiences outdoors is becoming a necessity rather than another “interesting” learning activity “to do”. Robertson expertly outlines the literature and research related to the impact of outdoor learning on children, highlighting the reality that “humans need nature not just to survive but to thrive.”

At the heart of Dirty Teaching is Robertson’s belief that as teachers it is our responsibility to help children develop a growth mindset and acquire practical skills, compassion and empathy in order to live harmoniously and help one another. These beliefs and values are elaborated in the book through The Four Golden Principles of Teaching Outdoors:

  1. Take a sustainable and rights-based approach
  2. Value free play and playful learning
  3. Provide a nurturing, natural environment
  4. Develop children’s creative capacities

Learning outdoors is different to learning indoors. Taking learning outdoors asks us to rethink our practice and question our values. We have to think on our feet and be responsive to the unpredictable world beyond our indoor classrooms.

The added value of learning outside the classroom is that it positively supports children’s health and wellbeing, as well as developing a lifelong appreciation of the natural world and the bigger issues of our times – a learning disposition that will be critical to the preservation of our fragile planet.

Bern Nicholls Bern Nicholls is an authentic and passionate learner who over the 
span of her career in education has consistently kept students at the centre of all her thinking and research. Read more articles by Bern Nicholls

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