Outdoor Learning

March 29, 2017

Hands On Outdoor Learning

I’m told that children learn through play.  From what I have experienced, I believe that everyone can learn through play. Our family has been playing in, on and around the Great Lakes most of our lives. We have learned a lot while we swam, boated, fished and beach combed.  The lakes engaged all our senses: the splash of cold water, the sound of the waves, the silence of fog, hot sand underfoot and the way it sings when you drag your toes across it, the ever changing colors and rhythms of waves, the times fish bite the best.   The outdoors have many lessons to teach if we pay attention.

Family vacations took us to all of the Great Lakes; the majesty of Niagara Falls; to the rocky shores of Lake Superior where we hunted for agates; to many embayments and open waters of the lakes to fish.  My husband  Norm, has caught nearly every kind of fish in the lakes: walleye from Lake Erie and the embayments of the upper Great Lakes, deep water fish such as lake trout and burbot, and the annual runs of white fish and perch  Pacific salmon that were planted to control alewives.

We have all learned so much from our outdoor adventures;  changing colors, their beaches of stone or sand, waterfalls, fishes and birds, wetlands , and dunes with their succession of plants.  In our play around the Great Lakes, we always learn something new.

With all of this hands-on experience I wrote a non-fiction book, The Dynamic Great Lakes, a non-fiction primer.  I had wanted a book like this to read, but I never found one so I decided to write a book with information that people could use to make sound decisions about the Great Lakes.

I am also the published author of three poetry books: The Wilderness Within and Sophia’s Lost and Found: Poems of Above and Below and Between Sweetwater and Sand. The last book will be released July 30, 2013( These poems are drawn directly from observations of nature.

At Grand Valley State University, I developed writing classes based upon environmental studies. This gave students important topics to work with. I did not want papers recycled from high school.  I assigned books such as The Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold and Blue Highways by William Least-Heat Moon and Thoreau.  We discussed the topics and writing techniques used by these authors.

I asked my students to go outdoors and use observation and to use the five senses. They kept journals based on what they saw and even how they felt about what they saw.   I brought things from nature such as feathers and plants indoors for students to hold in their hands and then describe in concrete detail. They played with the downy feathers, blowing on them and closely observing them.

I asked them to use metaphor and to use as many of the five senses as they could in their descriptions.  Student writing becomes grounded in reality when using these sorts of exercises.

Our lives become grounded when playing outdoors.???????????????

Click the link for reviews of The Dynamic Great Lakes





I’m lucky.  I had a father who taught me about nature.  By spending time outdoors, he provided me with a sense of wonder for a life time.

     We took walks and I learned about the wonders scattered all around.  We came to a place imbedded with fossils.   He taught me that these were once sea creatures in an ocean long ago.  He brought home some bull frog tadpoles.  I fed them bits of scrambled egg and watched them grow legs as their tails shrank and their mouths grew wide.  And then one day, they were frogs.  Amazing. 

      I believe teaching about nature is more important than ever since our natural world and its resources are shrinking.  Malls pop up on prime farm land.  Where will we grow food in the future?  Wetlands and their importance to the well being of our ecosystems are not always appreciated.  Sand dunes, lakes and streams with their unique ecosystems are there to be studied and explored.  Children who have learned to value and understand nature will find ways to care for the earth as they mature.  Attitude is everything. As we seek solutions for our planet and its diminishing resources, global warming and loss of species we will need  knowledgeable citizens.   I am counting on the next generations to come up with good solutions and to do the right things.