If you want to read more about the outdoor classroom in Western Massachusetts described below, visit the Forest Learning Blog. For Hannah French's full story, listen to her episode on Teachers in America.
On a crisp September morning, way back in 2018, my co-teacher and I led our third and fourth grade students down a winding woodland trail. The class was bubbling with excitement. We were eager to arrive at our destination: a hilltop in the middle of the forest, surrounded by scraggly hemlock trees and hobblebush. When we arrived, students helped to clear a small area on the hilltop and carry logs to create a seating circle. It was the beginning of our first forest classroom. All Fridays after that (aptly named Forest Fridays) were devoted to outdoor learning. Our class would hike in the forest, write in nature journals, make nature observations, read in the woods, and play outdoor games related to math, science, and social studies. The students even had “Forest Choice Time,” which is what we call free play in the woods. Needless to say, Forest Fridays became one of the most exciting and meaningful parts of our week.
In the fall of 2020, as the COVID pandemic continued and our school planned to reopen for in-person learning, we saw an opportunity to expand our outdoor learning program. Research has detailed the benefits of outdoor learning for students of all ages, and we knew that germs would be less likely to spread outside in the fresh air. Thus, we began to develop a new outdoor classroom. We wanted a space that was closer to the school building so that it would be easy to get to on a daily basis. The chosen area sits just beyond the tree line, in sight of the playground and soccer field. With help from community members we were able to clear brush and set up seating stumps just in time for the start of school. Then we were off and running!
One year later, our outdoor classroom is better than ever. We start the day in the classroom, where we use our technology that we can't take with us into the forest. Then we head to our outdoor classroom, where we now have multiple teaching spaces. There are tables fashioned from recycled wire spools, second-hand camping chairs, student hammocks, student-built forts, and, most recently added, a fire pit. It took a lot of hard work, and a strong commitment to spending time outside. Now we’re in our forest classroom on a daily basis, often for full days—lunchtime included!
Interested in beginning an outdoor classroom of your own but not sure where to begin? Here are seven tips to get you started on your outdoor teaching journey.
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