the loophole.

When I tell people here that I want our school to have an outdoor classroom and garden in our public school, I always get that big wide-eyed “ummm, OK, crazy lady” look. The garden part, they get..the classroom part, not so much. I should probably approach the subject differently. Apparently, when I say outdoor classroom and garden, people assume I want our kids sitting outside in the elements trying to have class in a third-world type of manner while gnawing on ears of just picked corn. 

 I understand their concern.  

Luckily, that isn’t what I mean. For those of you (mostly outside of Texas), who already understand the concept, feel free to check out other posts.  The rest of you, yeah, you…with the crazy eyes, let me explain.  

Think of an outdoor classroom just as any other classroom your kid would have access to. Sort of like how they go to the library or computer lab. It’s just another “room” that they can use. The only difference is that, instead of going into the door marked “library”, they go out the door marked “exit”. That’s it. I can’t say it any easier than that.  

This is the part of the conversation that usually starts the suspicious question asking and debbie downer comment making. Here is sample of one of my most recent conversations: 

They already get P.E.   

You’re right, they do. The Texas Education Agency (aka, TEA)  has graciously decided that our elementary-aged children must have a manadatory 150 minutes (out of 2100, btw) of moderate to rigorous physical activity per week. In other words, they spend about 7% of their time moving about, 93% not moving about. That is unless,  the school district chooses to require students to participate in moderate or vigorous physical activity for at least 135 minutes during each school week as an alternative…now drop it down to 6%.  

According to the Texas Education Code,  “The activity is based on the grade appropriate movement, physical activity and health, and social development strands of the essential knowledge and skills for physical education specified in Chapter 116 of this title (relating to Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Physical Education).”  

According to Mesquite ISD policy, P.E. lessons are to based on a TEKS structured activity, 135 minutes a week, in a properly equipped gym. Standard equipment in a gym is: a form of communication system to the main office (i.e. 2 way radio, cell, phone, etc.), ample storage for equipment, a drinking fountain, and  restroom facilities.   

Ummm, I don’t get it, what does that have to do them being outside? 


Well, that’s the thing, nothing. That’s why they need another way to get outdoors.   

 Good luck getting the teachers outside. I don’t see them wanting or using any outdoor classroom.   

You know, I’m sure some may not want to go outside and have another way of reaching our kids ie., their students. There could quite possibly be a couple that would rather sit inside and have storytime, to show kids what the lifecycle of an earthworm looks like in a book, to look at pictures of growing plants, and would prefer not having the added bonus of receiving some much needed educational grants, but I’ve met our teachers, I don’t think that will be that big of an issue.  

So, you think you’re going to change our entire school district’s curriculum? 

 God, no. Have you seen what a person has to do to change a policy in this district? Its a full blown 20+ step process. Check it out here if you don’t believe me (go to page four). Actually, I don’t want to attempt to change any previously written policy. I’m only one person with the same amount of hours in my day as the next. I do, however, want to encourage our school to teach our kids by “doing” and not so much by just “saying”. I’m going about this using policies that have already been written, but we haven’t started using. 

Why do you keep saying “free-range” kids? That’s weird. 

Think of it like this..and I apologize for taking the long way to my point. There are countless policies, procedures, laws, and rules mandating how I and our educators are to best raise/manage/corral/educate our children. Thankfully, they even tell us what sort of physical movement is appropriate for our kid’s age. Yet, for the life of me, I can’t find in any of the written legislation, that explains how to teach our kids to relax, make smart decisions, get back to nature, appreciate the earth, and well, just be a kid. I use the P.E. policy only as an example. This block of time used to be the one area throughout our kids’ day that they could take a break, be outside, run around, and socialize. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, the recess idea turned into a physical education idea, which then, somehow morphed into a “135 minutes a week of a structured, moderate to rigorous activity, in a fully equipped gym” idea. As I’ve stated above, I’m not trying to change anything. I’m just looking to add an alternative to being cooped up and indoors all day. Convicted felons in prison get yard time, our kids should, too. 

 *I would like to add, however, that if given a chance, kids will actually play. Oddly enough, they instinctively know how to move in an age appropriate manner. As a parent, I have witnessed this unexplained phenomena first hand. As a former kid, myself, I can attest to this. While I make no claims to be any sort of scientist, lawmaker, or salaried educational over-seer, I am fairly certain that the wild free-range running about of children may be as, if not more, effective than having them line up and wait their turn to participate in any structured activity. Just sayin’.* 

You’ll never get the school board to approve funding. 

That’s OK, I wasn’t planning on asking them to pay for it. As a matter of fact, it would defeat the purpose if they did. The whole reason of starting this on a grassroots level is to get our community, kids, parents, teachers, local groups and volunteers involved. A “coming together” for the kids, if you will. The idea (and the sneaky lesson involved) is to use reclaimed materials donated from our community, to have parents and volunteers use our own hands build it, and to have the kids and teachers sit in on the design board and witness the process. Plus, there are also tons of grant opportunities. If the school board just handed us money, our children will miss out on a very important opportunity to learn what it feels like to start something on this scale and see it to completion.

Between the TAKS/TEKS testing and trying to cram all the lesson plans in, teachers will not have time to let the kids go outside and play outside in the garden. 

First of all, the important thing to understand, is that this is an extension of the curriculum. There are lesson plans that have been approved and certified by the Texas Education Agency that correlate to the TAKS/TEKS guidelines. Subjects include science, math, language arts, music, and art. Your children also have the added benefit of learning about environmental awareness, composting, water conservation, community involvement, having their parents volunteer more at school, a sense of ownership,  healthy food choices, and they get to become little educational trailblazers. Did I mention the getting to be outside part??  So, that pretty much sums up a conversation I had with one parent. Luckily, I convinced her. Only 500-ish more to go.          

Posted via web from just a mom in mesquite 


2 Comments to “the loophole.”

  1. I have a friend who homeschools. Their Dad is a pastor. He is teaching them measurements etc. by building things. Last week they built a “trash corral” out of 2×4’s (which are actually only 1 3/4 x 3 3/4! How do we teach math with that logic!!??) They had to plan for how much materiels they’d need, measure, cut, hammer, nail etc. Great project! Your upper classmen can teach the lower, too!

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