What is Outdoor Education?
Outdoor education is a term that covers a wide range of experiential learning opportunities related to the environment. There are generally no physical walls for an outdoor education classroom, so the students will spend almost all of their time outside.
The daily lessons, tools and materials for this class are the things that nature has to offer throughout each season. Lessons for this type of class can be as simple as making hand paintings with mud or as complicated as developing and testing a scientific hypothesis about soil nutrients.
West Side’s Fisher Outdoor Education Program is designed to help toddler through 8th grade students build their awareness, understanding, and appreciation of the natural environment that they are a part of.
It is a movement with the intention of reestablishing the human connection to nature by building traits like creativity, resilience, and land stewardship. Moreover, children need room to practice skills like coordination and spatial awareness as they grow and build their sense of place. The great outdoors is a wonderful medium that can provide resources for them to do it all.
How does it fit with the Montessori Method?
Montessori teachers strive to help students become well-rounded individuals with strong intellect and emotional stability.
Maria Montessori put great emphasis on the role that nature should have throughout the four Planes of Development. She believed the outdoors should be used as an extension of the classroom because a child needs much more than the standard offerings of an indoor environment. The work presented in relation to outdoor activities provides invaluable experiences that assist in a more complete developmental process.
In the Montessori Method, teachers encourage curious learners through engaging, hands-on lessons and tasks done with real tools and materials. The outdoors is a perfect place to practice using new tools to do big work.
For example, a Little House toddler can use a trowel to dig in a sand dune. At the same time, a middle school student might be learning to use a humidity gauge to take weather recordings. Both children are practicing valuable skills in a way that is much more powerful in the outdoors.
The outdoor classroom comes with powerful experiences that can relate to many learning standards. Montessori students are inspired to make choices about the work they do to find meaning in their activities.
Imagine learning about butterflies and getting to search for a caterpillar in your classroom’s butterfly garden. This hands-on lesson will have very different results than one done with pictures and video clips.
Every lesson should come with amazing learning opportunities and chances to grow. Both Montessori and outdoor education bring those values together to build life-long skills.
What is your vision for the program?
There is a very strong foundation of environmental awareness and appreciation at West Side Montessori that was built by Lynn Fisher along with many of the other teachers, staff, and students.
Currently, our Outdoor Education Committee meets regularly to plan and strategize the best practices for implementing the program. Our current goals include increasing environmental awareness, reducing our school’s overall environmental impact, and increasing the health of our community by improving the biodiversity on our campuses.
WSM’s outdoor programming will be a multi-faceted approach that helps guide our toddler through 8th grade student population establish life-long bonds with nature. Our Toledo and Perrysburg campuses have natural playgrounds with classrooms that open right up to the outdoors, so we have easy access at all levels. There are also over a dozen student gardens on-site, including a greenhouse and two peace gardens, that are accessible to every classroom.
So far, the students have been highly involved with planting and caring for vegetables, fruits, and flowers. The highly-anticipated growing project this year is our pumpkin patch that we will use for student work come fall. Additionally, many of our classes are working with various compost systems to eliminate food waste and help build our garden soil. We even have our own pet worms to help break down our paper and degradable snacks!
Throughout the school year, we also offer extracurricular classes related to outdoor education for the kids that just can’t get enough of growing food or romping in the woods. It is very exciting to see the school’s evolution as we incorporate the outdoors into everyday work!