Outdoor learning is an integral part of the day at The Mayapple School. Our goal is for children to be fully involved in an active outdoor classroom life. Through the use of both natural and man-made materials, we help bridge the gap between outdoor and indoor environments, increasing children’s sense of familiarity and comfort. Meaningful structured and unstructured activities provide children with a sense of purpose, routine, and security. In turn, this gives them the power to take healthy risks and expand their learning opportunities while outdoors.
What are the benefits of outdoor learning?
The living environment and natural outdoor places are more complex than prefabricated materials or indoor spaces. This complexity stimulates a child’s brain; children who spend more time outdoors are more creative and better problem solvers. Outdoor play is also healthy. Being outside decreases exposure to germs and childhood sicknesses that can spread quickly indoors. Children who play outdoors also get more exercise and are less at risk for childhood obesity.
Many parents find that their children respond well to outdoor play and learning. Active children fare better and teachers report a decrease in behavioral problems and incidents. When the classroom is deliberately brought outdoors, children can reap the benefits without missing important preschool learning.
There are many other benefits of outdoor play and learning. Read about them on the Children & Nature Network.
What does The Mayapple School’s outdoor learning environment look like?
At the Mayapple School, we want children to access a rich, interesting, and complex outdoor environment. We currently have two main outdoor areas that we use.
The area right outside the school entrance is our outdoor classroom and playground. Its main feature is a dry pond that is our digging area and can become a fun mud pit or ice rink. Our outdoor classroom also includes a wooden “teepee” for pretend play, a mudpie kitchen (with sink, benches, table, and cooking equipment), garden beds, and a circle of logs for story time. We have completed fundraising for materials for additional elements for this area, including a music wall, water pump and wall, live willow tunnel, sand play area, and a slide and climbing wall. We will also be moving our bridge from our previous location in Newport, VA to Blacksburg. We hope to have these additions in place by the fall of 2019.
The area above the parking lot offers a small parcel of woodland, which we call simply “the forest.” All parents sign a forest field trip permission slip which allows students to visit the forest on an ongoing basis. This area offers so much to children. They have a chance to: explore and deepen connections with nature, identify living organisms and animal signs, create pretend play worlds, rely on each other and work together to accomplish child-driven projects, and simply live the magic that comes with children doing what they are meant to and need to do, in nature. Pictures of Greenbrier Creek on this website do come from our previous location in Newport, Virginia. A creek is not present at our current location in Blacksburg.
How much time do you spend outside?
Our goal is to average 2 – 2.5 hours daily outside (for full day students) throughout the course of the year. We go outside when it is sunny, windy, cloudy, mild, cold, hot, snowy, and rainy. We do not go out in hazardous conditions such as: tornado warnings, hail, wind chill below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, or heat index above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In very cold weather we will have to shorten our time outdoors, but in the past 3.5 years we have never had to miss outdoor time because of the cold (sometimes it has been only 3 or 4 degrees out… but we’ve always had a portion of the day above 0.) We understand that one of the reasons you are choosing The Mayapple School for your child is because we are committed to spending a lot of time in our outdoor classroom. Although this may not always be possible, we will always try and spend at least a small part of our day outside. The Appalachian Mountains often serve to break up weather patterns, creating weather that varies drastically over even the course of one day. Teachers keep an eye on the weather to find the best times to move outdoors or go indoors.
Students are able to spend time outside even when raining or when there is snow on the ground because we require all students to have proper clothing.