Coming to Lowell as a new science teacher with a background in environmental science and outdoor education has filled me with excitement. When I walk along Kalmia Creek during recess, I see students exploring where the water pools at the bottom of the creek. I see students curiously observing and investigating the natural environment. When I enter the Parkside building each day I think about how the name of the Middle School building relates to the beautiful Rock Creek Park that is literally right across the street. I have been immediately brought into the loop with the parent volunteers working hard to weed and clean up the garden so that it is ready for teachers to use in their curriculum. I have been included in the group brainstorming and planning for an innovative climate change curriculum that will become the focal point of the 6th grade humanities class next year. Most of all, I have been thrilled by the fact that we are looking at how all of this relates to the school’s philosophy and commitment to sustainability while working to define outdoor education at Lowell School.
Defining Outdoor Education
So, what is outdoor education? How do we define it? Most of the time, we think of ropes courses and team-building challenges. These are all wonderful and incredibly important aspects of outdoor learning that strengthen our students’ social and emotional relationships and skills. In addition, school gardens allow us to connect with our food, learn about plant growth, the nitrogen cycle, the water cycle, and other foundational scientific topics. The school garden can also connect to the humanities curriculum by having students grow similar foods to what ancient civilizations would grow, or staple foods from other countries. Students can connect in a more meaningful and hands-on way, broadening and deepening their understanding of other cultures and people. The traditional idea of outdoor education continues to grow throughout schools all around the country as ropes courses are built on school campuses, school garden grants are awarded, and new ideas are conceived.
Meaningful Learning Outdoors
With outdoor learning already in place at Lowell, I see a great potential in building a unique outdoor program that fully engages students in their studies using an outdoor setting. With Rock Creek Park as in our backyard, the possibilities to engage in nature-based activities are endless. I see the outdoor program at Lowell immersing students in the natural world in a way that directly connects to the academic topics they are learning inside their classrooms. Our beautiful campus, Rock Creek Park, and local outdoor spaces are perfectly suited to doing just that. When students take what they learn indoors and apply it beyond the classroom and vice-versa, they make connections and memories that can last a lifetime.
In what has become the outdoor educator’s philosophical guide, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv writes, “An environment-based education movement—at all levels of education—will help students realize that school isn't supposed to be a polite form of incarceration, but a portal to the wider world.” Allowing students the chance to have meaningful learning experiences outdoors that are academically challenging and meet the demands of an ever-changing world truly does meet Lowell’s definition of educational excellence. I am so excited to be a part of it.