Above: Before the Coronavirus and social distancing, Port Blakely environmental education coordinator Kelly Stanley led students on a field trip. Port Blakely has partnered with Washington state schools to provide outdoor learning opportunities for 29 years. This photo was taken earlier when Port Blakely was offering tours prior to the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order. Enjoy some of the artwork from students, that they can do at home . (Photo courtesy of Port Blakely)
In an effort to stop community spread of coronavirus in Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee announced last week that both public and private school closures would last the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year – impacting an unprecedented 1.2 million Washington students. As a result, parents are now having to contend with homeschooling their children over the next two months.
The news has left some parents resorting to humor as they navigate homeschooling. But as parents meet the challenge of finding creative ways to engage their children and promote academic learning in their home, many are looking to online resources and news sites that offer pointers and tips.
To that end, the Washington Forest Protection Association has created a website – LearnForest.org – in collaboration with members and partners to provide a clearinghouse of forestry-focused learning resources. This is by no means an official curriculum. But it does offer families a fun and accessible opportunity to apply subjects like science, language arts, visual arts and physical education into their children’s school day from their home or backyard.
“I have heard that parents are struggling to find relevant resources for their children and teachers are overwhelmed with trying to design curriculum for online,” said Kelly Stanley, Port Blakely environmental education coordinator. “But the school closures also provide a rare opportunity for students to set aside the pressures of standardized tests and see what they like and what interests them. This is your chance to see what inspires your kids and build on that.”
For 29 years, Port Blakely, a fifth-generation family-owned sustainable forest products company, has partnered with schools in Washington state to provide outdoor educational programming that includes field trips and classroom materials. In 2001, they expanded the program for students in Oregon. Had the schools remained open, Port Blakely’s Environmental Education program would have celebrated a milestone of educating a total of 100,000 students, teachers and parents. Students enjoy the Port Blakely program, Stanley said, because it provides an opportunity for them to see and experience nature and wildlife firsthand.
“No one wants to read about a banana slug,” Stanley said. “They want to see a banana slug.”
With the schools’ program shut down in response to the coronavirus, Port Blakely has shifted its education to family activities and home-based learning, said Teresa Loo, Port Blakely director of environmental affairs and community relations. Port Blakely hopes to offer materials for homeschooling parents and kids in the coming weeks.
But, in the meantime, Loo added, incorporating forestry and nature into homeschool can be as simple as taking your child on a walk in nearby woods, visiting a neighborhood park or even exploring the backyard.
“Sometimes the best lesson plan is the opportunity in front of you to experience the outdoors that’s closest to you,” Loo said.
Kelly Stanley and Teresa Loo’s Homeschool tips
Use the outdoors when you can, even if it’s looking out the window.
Opt for hands-on activities where kids can be active learners.
Follow your child’s interests and build the lesson around that, such as art projects or writing stories about nature.
Keep the lessons brief.
Don’t forget to have fun yourself!