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 three main outdoor areas that we use.
The first one is our “Loose Parts Playground,” which includes piles of sticks, pipes, tires, and stones for the students to manipulate. This area is bordered on one side by a shallow stream, which allows children to splash and discover the properties of water and the surrounding ecosystem. We often find small animals such as snakes, voles, butterflies, salamanders, and worms in this area.The Loose Parts Playground is perfect for digging projects, as one area of the playground has been ammended with sawdust, making for easy digging. Shovels and cookware are available, as well as a dump truck and wheelbarrow, allowing all sorts of household projects to take place. Children often bring water from the stream to enhance their projects. On the edge of the digging area, we use long benches for art projects. Snack time and Story time take place daily on a circle of logs in the field. In the future, we hope to increase the number and variety of tools and loose parts in the play area.
The students call the second area the “Sandbox Playground,” because it holds a large sandpit, bordered by stones with a raised area in the middle. This playground also has two outdoor easels plus two picnic tables for art projects. We hold story time on blankets in the middle of a raised, horseshoe-shaped mound, which is planted with small bushes, trees, herbs, and other plants. Five raised beds are available for gardening projects. This playground also has two typical wooden play structures, one with a twirly slide, and one with a straight slide. A large selection of funky logs to balance on, and a log teepee/den complete this playground. In the future, we also hope to add a gravel pit, plant fruit trees, and work on more gardening projects in this playground.
What about the forest?
Glad you asked! The Mayapple School does not have a forest on its grounds, but we do have access to one. The adjoining landowner has recently given his permission for The Mayapple School students to explore and play in the forest behind the school. To use this forest, we cross the creek and go up the hill. Parents of students sign an on-going permission slip that allows us to take students into the forest. There is so much for us to explore!
How much time do you spend outside?
Our goal is to average 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 Farenheit, or heat index above 100 degrees Farenheit. In some weather we will have to shorten our time outdoors. 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 always keep an eye on the weather to find the best times to move outdoors or go indoors.
Students are able to spend 2 hours or more outside even when raining or when there is snow on the ground because we require all students to have proper clothing.