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  • Rebecca P. Cohen

Reinforce School Lessons with 15 Minutes Outside

This morning, my third grader had a test about soil. Yesterday evening, while sitting on a picnic blanket to do his homework outside, he opened his notebook to look at a study sheet. While talking about some components of soil: sand, clay, nutrients, and minerals, we soon found ourselves looking at and touching the soil around us. My son found sandy soil by the mailbox, clumps of clay leftover from a hole I dug to plant a shrub, the dark topsoil in the garden bed. Then, he took a trip to the compost bin and shoveled out some dark compost, holding it in his hand ("It feels good!," he said), noticing the details of the grains, seeing the components of soil, by looking closely at it.

I opened up the top of the bin so he could see how the compost starts: dry leaves, vegetable and fruit kitchen scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds, discarded paper towels...other than seeing dry leaves and an old orange or two, my nine year-old had a hard time recognizing what was in the decomposing pile. With the black hard-plastic 'mixer pole' provided with my compost bin, I lifted up the leaves: worms were everywhere. "Ugh!" he said. How did those get in there???

"See those open trash bags next to the compost bin?" I asked. "When I gather dry leaves in late fall and winter, I keep the dry leaves in these open trash bags under the porch and add them in as the top of the compost decomposes. There must have been worms in the leaf piles."

Satisfied with his soil lesson, we wiped off the dirt from our hands in the grass and finished his homework; he read to me for his required 30 minutes on an Adirondack chair in the evening sunshine.

On our walk to school this morning, we noticed big trenches dug in the ground by construction trucks and my older son saw the clay of our Virginia soil. My first grader told me about his first class walk on a nature trail and what he wrote about after. "Decomposing leaves," he said. "My teacher and classmates were surprised at what I wrote."

After I dropped my kids off at school, I realized a missed opportunity as I dug a hole for a shrub I bought the day before. The shovel made a perfect cross section of our yard's soil: topsoil, clay, then rock. I'll certainly look at digging holes in a new way: as a formal lesson in soil.

As I dug holes and planted my four shrubs today, I thought more about what our children are learning in school and the easy and fun ways to reinforce school lessons with 15 Minutes Outside. For example, my first grader didn't learn about decomposing leaves because I sat him down to teach him about it. He learned about decomposing leaves from our 15 Minutes Outside every day together.

With 15 Minutes Outside, our kids are effortlessly learning hands-on lessons every day that prepare them for what they are expected to learn in school.

Last week, I had the honor of working with 48 elementary school teachers in grades kindergarten - 5, hearing from them the opportunities in their curriculum to teach outside.

From our discussions, I found that there are ten common subjects across the grades that my book, 15 Minutes Outside, will help our kids start to learn. In my newsletter this week, Learn Outside, I am going to tie each of the ten subjects to an easy activity from 15 Minutes Outside. Sign up for free to make sure you receive the ten great educational activities via my newsletter.

Here's to memorable moments outside every day that not only feel great, but also help us learn as a family!

About Rebecca P. Cohen

Rebecca P. Cohen believes time outside transforms our lives for the better. PJ's Backyard Adventures is the latest project from Rebecca, author of the book 15 Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids (Sourcebooks), and creator of Rebecca Plants Curiosity Cards. Rebecca’s work has been featured in countless media outlets, including USA Today, Parenting, Redbook, Working Mother, and Family Circle. In addition, Rebecca has appeared on live morning news shows around the country, and is also host of the video series, Get Out of the House, which shows fun ideas for time outside in every season. For Rebecca's inspiring blog and free downloads, visit

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