Outdoor Learning in 7/8

It’s a rare thing, sitting outside among 10-20 young adolescents and quietly taking in the world around us. In a world where we are constantly bombarded with new and competing information, moments of calm and serenity are often fleeting. Yet every week, the 7th and 8th grade team at Flood Brook has the amazing opportunity to spend time sitting quietly in the woods, journaling about the natural world around them, and thinking deeply about the successes and challenges of our week. It is with our shared experiences outdoors, that we build the community of learners.

I say it’s rare, but increasingly less so here at Flood Brook; to sit quietly with a group of people-usually bursting with youthful energy and to simply enjoy the crackle of a campfire or the song of the birds. It is rare, but students at Flood Brook Middle School experience this weekly if not daily. You see, the 7th and 8th grade team here at Flood Brook has made a conscious decision to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Students have been learning to identify tree species on campus, they have studied the skills of a scientist-observation and inquiry, and they have focused on their writing, their team building, and their mindfulness while exploring the natural world.

While the necessities of managing healthy and safety requirements for COVID have indeed impacted our decision to work outdoors as much as possible, as many of you know this is not a new trend here at Flood Brook. Our students begin their journey into the outdoors as Kindergarteners. By the time they reach us in the middle school, many of them are well equipped to spend even the coldest days outside. So why do Flood Brook students spend so much time outside, even when we are not in the midst of a global pandemic?

The answer is as simple as you might guess. We spend so much time outside because that is what people are built for. In a world where our response to a pandemic includes additional screen time and further social isolation, we as teachers choose to double down on what we know is right for kids-being outside with others. So without any further ado, I give you… a short list of the benefits of outdoor learning.

  • Increased focus on social emotional learning: through team-building, reflection, and authentic interactions based on inquiry and outdoor projects students are practice VT’s transferable skills of Clear and Effective Communication, Problem Solving, and Responsible and Involved Citizenship
  • Health: not only are students getting more time involved in long-term cardiovascular exercise but simply the act opf being in nature has been shown to improve people’s immune systems, reduce production of stress hormones, and lower attention fatigue in students with ADHD
  • Practice in Autonomy: The natural world provides a place for students to explore, investigate, play, and try out their theories on how the world works. It is a safe place for students to practice autonomy, regulating themselves and working on executive functioning skills such as time management and accountability.
  • Fun and Play: Let’s face it, at a certain point, these students are still kids at heart. They deserve time to play and learn through play. Growing up in Vermont it’s important that they have adults in their lives both in and out of school who can model that there are safe and fun ways to play in Vermont regardless of weather.

Thanks for reading!

-Cliff 7/8 Social Studies

Works Cited

“Benefits of Place-Based Education.” Benefits of Place-Based Education | Promise of Place, promiseofplace.org/research-evaluation/research-and-evaluation/benefits-of-place-based-education.

“Immerse Yourself in a Forest for Better Health.” Immerse Yourself in a Forest for Better Health – NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation, http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/90720.html#:~:text=Phytoncides have antibacterial and antifungal,infected cells in our bodies.

“Outdoor & Place-Based Education in the Now.” Shelburne Farms, 26 Aug. 2020, shelburnefarms.org/calendar/event/outdoor-place-based-education-in-the-now.Publishing, Harvard Health. “A Prescription for Better Health: Go Alfresco.” Harvard Health, http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/a-prescription-for-better-health-go-alfresco.