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Eden Prairie kindergarten teacher takes her class outside every week

Wilderness Wednesdays began when she realized some of her students refused to be barefoot outside.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Gone are the days when parents are calling for their kids to come inside from playing so much outside.

I'm not a parent myself, but I do hear it is a struggle for some parents to get the kids interested in doing activities outdoors.

One Eden Prairie teacher is working to change that and is encouraging her kids to fall in love with nature and dirt by taking her classes completely outside at least one day a week.

Cedar Ridge Elementary School kindergarten teacher Jen Heyer's Wednesday classes feel like a field trip but it isn't one. It's also not your regular classroom experience either.

On Wednesdays, you can see her class excitedly run into a small trail that leads to an amphitheater located on the side of the school. 

The amphitheater is where Mrs. Heyer swaps out chairs for boulders and where climate control doesn't exist.

There, she starts reading a book about pollinators and flowers to her kindergartners. 

"We do Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday traditional classroom learning," Heyer said. "We try to come up with ways to do more hands on learning within the classroom."

On Wednesdays, she holds Wilderness Wednesdays. She takes her class outside. They do activities together, they get their hands dirty. The kids love it.

Four years ago, when Heyer first started Wilderness Wednesdays, Heyer recalls not everyone was on board. She said she started small initially, and asked everyone to take their shoes off to feel the grass underneath their feet outside.

"One of the boys looked at me completely serious and he said this is going to be the worst day of my entire life," Heyer said. "I was like why? And he said, 'I don't want to be barefoot outside.'"

She said she saw that the disconnect between nature and kids was evident. However, persistence overcame resistance and she slowly saw changes within her students. 

"At the end of [the day] the same student said 'this was the best day of my life, can we do more of it?'" Heyer said. "And that's really how Wilderness Wednesdays came about."

Keeping an open channel with nature isn't just limited to her class either. Today, Heyer invited a group of 4th graders to be outside with her kindergartners. The students all buddied up to build an insect habitat together. They small groups each got pre-made kits from Home Depot and went to work on building what looked like a small bird house for insects.

When you watch Heyer's class outside, it's not too different from a regular classroom. Heyer gets pulled in all sorts of directions, each kid coming up with a problem with their insect habitat kit. Heyer patiently tends to all of their questions and concerns--just like how she would indoors.

Kids will always be kids. Heyer said that's really all she wants-- just for them to be kids outside.

"Kids will grow in and out of love with their toys, they will grow in and out of love with technology but nature is for every body," Heyer said. "They won't grow in and out of love with nature. It's for everyone."

Wilderness Wednesdays have been going on for four years at Cedar Ridge. For her work, Heyer is being awarded the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The award highlights teachers who use the environment as a context for their curriculum.

She will travel to Washington D.C. at the end of July to receive that award.

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