Academy for G.O.D. offers Kindergarteners opportunity to explore outdoors
“It’s time for Outdoor ‘Ventures!" young students cheer on Friday mornings, as they bundle up for their very favorite class of the week. At the Academy for G.O.D., Kindergarteners don their rubber boots and jean overalls, ready to be fully immersed in a woodland experience called Outdoor Adventures.
The 5 and 6 year olds traipse into the back woods of the school’s property, and enjoy a supervised but unstructured time of exploration. Shouts of “Look at this leaf!”, and “I found a beetle!” echo through the trees. One student nervously balances on a slick log. With more body control than she’s ever had to exercise, she makes her way to the end of it and jumps off, triumphant. The fact that it was 6 inches off the ground does nothing to inhibit her joy.
“It’s a really great class for so many reasons.” Kindergarten teacher Rachel Nowlin says, “The kids learn about cause and effect in a natural setting. If they climb on an old, dry log and it cracks, then the next time they find an old log, they know to be careful. They move with much more caution than they do in the classroom, simply because they know there are natural consequences to being out of control.”
Nowlin uses the class as a way to capitalize on healthy curiosity. “Sometimes I’ll have them go find one interesting thing from the woods, and they’ll come back with an unusual leaf, a piece of moss, or a flower, and bring it back to class to make a note in their journals. They are excited to learn how to spell that new word.”
Crossing a shallow creek becomes a lesson on suction, as students giggle and fight to pull their booted feet out of the mud. One young boy compares a jagged stone with a round one smoothed by the water, and runs to find a teacher to ask how that happened. Teachers and aides stand by, ready to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over discoveries, but do not interfere with the discovery process.
A study published by NPR has shown that access to nature provides a calming effect, and decreases symptoms of stress. In outdoor activities students tend towards working in groups; they make a task of rolling a giant boulder, or together scale a pile of wood chips, warning each other to be careful and offering a helping hand. These social benefits improve in-class dynamics.
Outdoor Adventures is a class unique to Kindergarteners. After learning to handle themselves in a natural setting, students graduate to other outdoor classes like Coordination & Balance, and Gardening. Maneuvering a wheelbarrow full of compost requires not only coordination and strength, but also the consciousness of when exactly to stop loading up the wheelbarrow. It only takes one spill with a full wheelbarrow to go a little lighter the next time! These classes are natural settings for lessons on self-awareness, humility, and teamwork.
Far from being less important than more ‘academic’ topics, students at The Academy will continue to enjoy these outdoor classes as part of a holistic approach to education. Whether it’s forging a creek, examining a leaf, or digging a garden bed, students will learn what it means to truly explore the world!