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The Outdoor Classroom

07 Nov

We believe outdoor classrooms are an essential benefit to a child’s overall development and engagement in school. Bringing learning outdoors in intentional, project-based, and fun ways nurtures a student’s engagement with specific topics and encourages their appreciation for our natural surroundings.  We believe this is true for children of all ages, and it is applicable to many of Applewild’s curricular decisions for preschool through middle school students.   These types of hands-on, active, and experiential learning opportunities can be offered to children of all ages and effectively engage students with varying learning styles.

The Outdoor Classroom Project, a nonprofit advocating for the enhancement of young students through outdoor learning (outdoorclassroomproject.org),  argues that a young child’s physical, psychological, understanding, and cognitive abilities can be impacted in exceedingly positive and meaningful ways through outdoor learning opportunities. At Applewild, that philosophy is translated into lots of outdoor play for preschool and elementary school children, giving them time to grow their confidence, social skills, and language skills. The Outdoor Classroom Project also posits that cognitive skills enhanced by outdoor learning develop a love for science and math through connections to the outdoor world. Working in the school garden, coordinating school-wide composting, canoeing and collecting water samples on the Nashua River, and calculating the carbon content of trees at a plot in the Harvard Forest are all explicit examples of ways we ignite a passion for science and math using outdoor experiences.

An article by Michael Becker, a faculty member at Hood River Elementary School in Oregon, highlights the benefits of his school’s three-day outdoor excursion for sixth graders (Edutopia, April 2016).  Becker notes five benefits of outdoor education which include building community, raising expectations and standards, increasing connections, building school culture, and developing positive memories and feelings about school and the outdoors.  Becker’s noted benefits connect directly to the class trips taken by Applewild students in grades six through eight. These take place at the start of each school year and include off-campus, outdoor, and experiential learning over a three-day period. Students work outside their comfort zones while engaging in dynamic, team-building outdoor activities in positive, encouraging, and safe environments.  They return having made meaningful connections to their experiences and our school’s Core Values, and having gained a better sense of their amazing, individual capabilities.

At Applewild, we believe in creating an environment where students of all ages are inspired by their natural surroundings.  Engaging students in outdoor learning opportunities is an important component in providing a well-rounded, innovative, and thoughtful approach to educating the whole child.

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