First grader Henry Theriot and preschooler Morgan Theriot give the inside scoop on their experience with distance learning and their newfound outdoor play time during a socially distanced interview conducted at a safe six feet away (one kid hockey stick plus two feet, according to Henry).

Abbie: How do you feel about playing outside?

Henry: Well on a scale of 100, I’d give it a 65.

Morgan: *Holds up 10 fingers as high as she can*

Abbie: Playing outside?

Henry: No, distance learning!

As the school year drew to a close for young distance learners, Easton’s students and families could share the challenges they faced and the routine changes they endured as they adapted to their new at-home school environment. They can also testify to new learning opportunities that arose as a result of this novel way of virtually attending school.

In the Theriot household, preschooler Morgan and first-grader Henry faced new difficulties like navigating computers, not seeing friends daily, and adapting to new technology to participate in class.

Some things were new and exciting. Henry was assigned to watch a video of Mystery Doug doing live science experiments. “Yeah I learned how rainbows are made, I actually know!” Henry said.

The biggest change? Newfound free time.

Henry and Morgan pose with their dad Jay Theriot, mom Bryna Theriot, and dog Frankie.

No more commute to school, no more after-school activities, and at home, Easton students budgeted their classroom and break times however they liked. Henry and Morgan got their classroom sessions done early in the day so they had more time to play in the afternoon. And with the arrival of summer’s sunny days, this means lots of outdoor exploration.

Henry proudly showed me the mica-gilded rock he found in his digging hole, where he recently pursued the tall task of digging to Japan. He listed as many vegetables as he could remember in his garden, including cabbage, kale and rainbow chard. The onset of warm weather and the newfound free time grants the whole family more opportunity to garden, rollerblade, chase the dog, throw the Frisbee, and practice punting soccer balls together. Since his hockey season was cut short, Henry’s go-to activity to prepare for the upcoming fall season is practicing his shots “against the garage, I leave some marks on the door.”

Henry spends his newfound time at home preparing for his next hockey season.

As children begin looking for activities to fill their socially distanced summer vacation, Easton’s families will be appreciating their backyards now more than ever. Unstructured play time in nature is a great way to encourage children to entertain themselves, as well as teach them valuable lessons that cannot be learned in the classroom.

Children’s interactions with their natural environment allow them to learn about themselves as much as they learn about their surroundings. It enables them to be creative in ways that learning indoors cannot compare to. According to environmental psychologist Louise Chawla, playing outside allows children to “develop environmental competence in the sense of knowledge, skill, and confidence in their ability to use the environment to carry out their goals and enrich their experience… Manipulating the environment at the large scale of forts and play houses or the microscale of dirt play involves dramatic play and negotiation: acting out real-life situations, practicing adult roles, expressing needs, and finding cooperative solutions.”

Playing outside strengthens positive relationships with nature to develop children into strong advocates for the environment. In her research on environmentalists’ commitment to conservation, Chawla ranked the five major contributors to instilling this life-long advocacy:

  1. Positive experience of natural areas
  2. The influence of family and mentors (most often parents, but can be other caregivers)
  3. Participation in organizations (e.g., Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts)
  4. Negative environmental experiences (e.g., witnessing habitat destruction or pollution)
  5. Formal education.
Their play set is one of Morgan and Henry’s favorite spots to play.

Young learners like Henry and Morgan grow aware of the beauty right under their noses as they explore their backyard. Aspetuck Land Trust’s Green Corridor that envelops Easton, Fairfield, Westport, Weston, Wilton and Redding shows that all Easton yards are an essential part of the region’s ecosystem. Easton children can explore their yard space with as much excitement and awe as they would hiking through Aspetuck’s preserves. As children become more and more curious about the resident caterpillars, bees, birds, and wildflowers living in their yard, they’ll be eager to understand the dangers facing these organisms and what they can do to help.

Morgan and Henry miss their friends dearly, and Henry candidly said “I really want to be at school; [on campus] school is better!” Students will be sure to have a newfound appreciation for school once they finally reunite with their classmates. Until then, these young learners will continue making the most out of this unique learning situation, in and out of the digital classroom.

Looking for ways to get your kids outside during their summer vacation? Check out Preserve Exploration with Kids to see the best adventures to embark on in Aspetuck’s 40 trailed preserves! Also try the Seek app to instantly identify flora and fauna and learn fun facts about the organisms all around you.

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