Preschools without walls

January 21st, 2016

The New York Times recently ran an article about Fiddleheads Forest School near Seattle, where the outdoors serve as classrooms without walls. Stenhouse author Herb Broda wrote an encouraging response to the article. Read below and then check out his books Schoolyard-Enhanced Learning and Moving the Classroom Outdoors, as well as his recent blog posts of practical ideas that help you turn your schoolyard into an outdoor classroom.

Learning from Fiddleheads
Herb Broda

The sky is the ceiling and the landscape provides the audio-visual experiences at the Fiddleheads Forest School near Seattle. At this innovative preschool, eloquently described in a recent New York Times feature Preschool Without Walls by Lillian Mongeaudec (Dec. 29, 2015) students spend four hours a day – rain or shine—in classrooms among the native trees in the University of Washington Botanic Gardens. Students are engaged in a wide range of activities that focus on experiencing the surrounding environment. They are immersed in hands-on nature like digging, building forts, taking “listening walks” and building child-size nests in wood chip piles.

The most popular word at Fiddleheads is “notice”. Primary emphasis is given to observing and describing the nature that is literally at children’s fingertips. “Kids are the best at sharing in joy and wonder”, explains a teacher.

Nature preschools with daily outdoor experiences at the heart of their programs have been growing in number—up from twenty in 2008 to ninety-two currently, according to the Times article. Now, I realize that it is highly unlikely that outdoor immersion preschools like Fiddleheads will eventually dominate the scene. Indeed, there are solid arguments both pro and con regarding totally outdoor-based programming. The article does, however, encourage serious consideration of outdoor learning as an effective instructional method.

It really doesn’t matter to me whether a school has a totally outdoor-based program, or a more typical situation where teachers step outside the classroom door to use the schoolyard as a teaching tool. The important thing is that children are receiving frequent contact with nature.

Regular exposure to the natural world provides many benefits that enrich instruction and reconnect children with the outdoors:

  1. Nature provides both a spacious venue for learning, as well as an abundant source of content. Both students and teachers welcome a change of pace and place. Variety is indeed the spice of life—and the energizer of teaching.
  1. The outdoors is the ideal place to teach universal process skills like observing, describing, classifying and analyzing. Not only are these skills critical to science, they are also integral to language arts, mathematics and the creative arts.
  1. Outdoor learning experiences provide generous opportunities for creative play, and a necessary respite from the incessant beeps and glare of electronic devices. We are in desperate need of the calming effects that only nature can provide.
  1. Research over the last several years is confirming that frequent outdoor experiences contribute to good health, positive mental attitude and even improved cognitive function. It isn’t necessary to be outdoors all day everyday to achieve these benefits. All that is required are regular doses of what author Richard Louv calls “Vitamin N” (Nature).

The article gives me great hope! At a time when children’s natural curiosity about the outdoors is eclipsed by the demands of busy schedules and the ever-present glow of video screens, schools may be the only place where children are encouraged to interact with nature. It’s empowering to realize that the enthusiastic engagement and joy of learning that happens daily at Fiddleheads is possible on your schoolyard!

 

Entry Filed under: Classroom practice

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