An Interview with KinderRanch Founder, Kim Chappell
By Amanda Dykes
If you were to visit the Chappell Ranch in rural Northern Nevada, you’d be greeted by the sounds of hooves on dusty earth, the smell of hay in the air, and a scattering of ranch animals in every direction. Oh, and young, eager voices, embracing learning on the ranch.
Kim Chappell owns and operates the KinderRanch program there, filling the days for pre-school aged children with hands-on learning and discovery. In a recent interview, Chappell shared her insights about outdoor education. Notice that while the activities discussed are specific to ranch life, their core objectives of actively engaging students in hands-on discovery can be modified for use in urban, home, playground, park, and recreation settings.
How can conventional indoor learning be modified to be taken outdoors?
I think you can use your outdoor environment to your advantage whether you are learning to identify shapes, count, or read. There are so many patterns outside, including geese in flight, rings in tree trunk, leaves on a flower, etc.
On the ranch, patterns present themselves all the time such as in egg laying, rooster crowing, naptime for horse‘s, etc. On the ranch we learn to count when we count eggs, flakes of hay, numbers of horses, cows, sheep and goats.
Creativity abounds outside and because it is such an engaging world, kids are more apt to learn when they are actively involved in the learning process versus just rote learning. For example, the kids on the ranch remember how many eggs we get at nine am and eleven am because they are actively involved in collecting them.
What are the benefits of outdoor learning for this age group?
As mentioned above being actively involved in the learning process creates a vested interest in what they are doing. If kids are involved and have a hands-on approach to learning my experience is that they retain the new knowledge. They will often remind me when the egg count is different from the day before for example. Or if I depart from my normal routine, they will remind me that I forgot to do a particular ranch chore. I am inspired by this because it represents active and sustained learning.
How have you seen time spent learning outside affect students’ learning methods, or affect students in general?
Inspiration, excitement, creativity, sustained learning, and a desire to learn more. I teach a lot of life skills to the kids, so when we are navigating how to cross a ditch for example, the kids have to problem solve. Sometimes they may make the wrong choice, which could mean getting stuck in the mud, so they have to regroup and decide another way to tackle a problem. This is huge for this age group and very empowering for them. Problem solving and team work are the life skills in this example in which they are participants, not just observers. Learn by doing is the philosophy here.
Are there challenges unique to outdoor learning?
Yes. Weather is one, as it is ever changing. But so is the world, so when we learn to work within our natural environment we also learn what we need personally to stay comfortable. On the ranch that means preparing adequately with, boots, gloves, fly spray, sunscreen, etc. Safety is another concern and is the most important.
Could you share a few of the activities you engage the students in outdoors?
- Chickens – cutting the wings, collecting eggs on a daily basis.
- Irrigation – how do you water a pasture? The kids learn how to do this.
- Horsemanship – basic work with horses
- Sheep and Goats – we love to play with them
- Hay Math – we learn to count, measure and add by using hay. When you feed the animals each animal has specific feeding requirements.
- Color Me Green – why is it important to keep the earth clean?
- Circle Time
- Closing Time and Journals