Even on a cold Minnesota day, teacher Eric Wulff sees the importance of learning outside.
“It is the world’s largest classroom,” he said.
These students at the School of Engineering and Arts near Minneapolis are learning lessons like predator versus prey, measuring trees based on shadows, and taking care of chickens.
These lessons translate to science and math, but without desks and four walls.
“I think I learn better outside honestly, because as I’m learning, I’m refreshing my brain too,” one of the students said.
Students still spend time inside learning hands-on skills that can be used outside the classroom, in nature, another day. One group of students at the school is raising trout that will eventually be released back into the stream.
“Nine hours a day on their screens, and only 30 minutes a week outdoors doing unstructured play time so that’s a big change in the last few decades,” Jeff Ledermann with Fish and Wildlife Outreach at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said. Ledermann is one of the people in charge of the “No Child Left Inside” grant program, Minnesota’s newest program to help kids get outside more often.
Lawmakers approved the program in 2019 as a way for schools and organizations to apply for funding for outdoor activities. Over $1 million worth. The first round of small grants was awarded this winter, and the Department of Natural Resources recently closed the application process for a second round of larger grants to be awarded this spring.
“We got the idea from other states that started the No Child Left Inside type of grant program; ours is unique,” Minnesota State Representative Jamie Becker-Finn said.
She played a large role in the bill coming to life in Minnesota.
“Some of the individual programs that have gotten funds through this program are really life changing things that we’re doing for young people,” she said.
“Out of 400 applicants, they chose 60 so there were a lot of people looking for money or wanting to get kids outside,” Vincent Patton, a teacher at South High School near Downtown Minneapolis, said.
Patton teaches “All Nations”, a class focused on the culture and history of Native Americans.
“I get to tie those cultural activities in with the curriculum so my students can have experiences they might not have ever had,” he said.
On days like today, Vince’s class is learning how to cook buffalo meat and preparing fishing rods for an outdoor fishing trip. Vince’s dad is helping out.
“He’s taught me everything I know about fishing and being outdoors,” Vince said.
South High students have done everything from going on day trips fishing, to longer trips, camping up in Northern Minnesota.
Washington and Minnesota are the only states that have this grant program statewide from what we found, but other states like Hawaii are looking to pass something similar. Teachers like Vince are just happy to have the extra change.
“I’m focused on trying to get paper and poster boards but I know that there’s pots of money that will give my students something deeper than just another worksheet,” Vince said.
“The feedback we’ve had from the public has just been phenomenal. Clearly there is a demand for programs like this,” Jamie Becker-Finn said.