Children Explore the Outdoors

A livestream from the “chicken coop cam” and other special videos allowed students to check in on the School’s many plants and animals, while learning from home. Now back on campus, students are getting reacquainted with the rich natural settings, thanks to Punahou’s Outdoor Education program.

A myriad of outdoor experiences is happening, particularly for students in kindergarten through sixth grade, all with the intention of encouraging the exploration of nature and taking care of it. 

For instance, third graders are getting a hands-on experience of the water cycle by working in the kalo patch, and fourth and fifth graders are helping grow native plants. Meanwhile, Punahou’s outdoor spaces are supporting safety efforts during this time, allowing faculty and students to take a break from the classroom and get some fresh air for lunch and recess.

Outdoor Education faculty Andy Nelson and Shelby Ho ’01, and Maverick the duck, in 2018.

Andy Nelson and Shelby Ho ’01, Punahou’s Outdoor Education coordinators for kindergarten through sixth grade, have been instrumental in these efforts and have an update on the program.

How have you adapted your teaching to the new safety protocols? 
Ho: We’re fortunate that we teach outside, and studies have shown that the outdoors is significantly safer than being indoors. We’re still adhering to the PPE policy, so every child has a mask and shield on. We’re also social distancing and making sure that students aren’t sharing tools.

Nelson: Part of outdoor educaton and going to camp is being in all sorts of different weather elements and having to adapt. So, adapting is something we’re used to. We ask the kids to do that, and it is a valuable skill. Like other things, we’ve adapted to the new conditions and looked for the positives. Minus the face masks and shields, the sights and sounds of kids outside make things feel pretty normal on campus.

What opportunities have come out of these challenges?
Ho: Without field trips or off-campus experiences, the new normal of school has provided us an opportunity to connect students with campus more. Students can now focus on taking care of the campus plants and the animals before they head off to camp or other off-campus experiences when we’re allowed to.

Nelson: Currently, the use of play equipment or things like balls isn’t allowed during recess, but one of the highlights of our year has been watching the types of play that this has encouraged. Instead of long Four Square lines, it is common to see entire classes playing together. It almost feels like camp. Hide-and-go-seek, exploring the ‘auwai (irrigation ditches), stacking rocks, building things with items found in nature, running around like airplanes or just making up games and using their imaginations is really nice to see.

Why is it good for students to get outside? 
Nelson: Science has proven that it’s good for your physical and emotional well-being to get in nature so getting kids outside and disconnecting from a screen is important. Our outdoor spaces and animal habitats also encourage kids to be curious, responsible stewards of our campus and the things that call it home.

Ho: We’re so lucky that we live in Hawai‘i during a pandemic, and that the outdoors is so accessible and pleasant to be in. So, our goal is to get kids outside and to allow them to feel the sun and the wind and get sweaty.

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