Why You Should Enroll Your Child in an Outdoor School Program

It’s no secret that our children are becoming increasingly distant from the natural world. With a greater dependence on technology, virtual relationships, and indoor activities, many children rarely experience the outdoors.

Even in school, time spent outdoors on field trips and during recess is shrinking across the country. But children are meant to explore, learn, and discover in the natural world. 

That’s why an outdoor school might be the best option for your middle school-aged children. Not only will your children receive a quality education, but they will spend time outdoors daily. They will build a lasting connection with the natural world.

There are many reasons why an outdoor school program may be one of the best opportunities for your kids. Keep reading to discover what outdoor learning looks like, as well as the most important benefits of outdoor school.

What Is Outdoor School?

Outdoor education takes on many different forms depending on what program you are considering. At Voyagers Community School, that means students in grades 6-8 spend at least 10 hours a week outdoors. The remaining time is spent in the classroom to continue the learning that began outside.

We rely on a scientific, hands-on approach to learning that boosts student motivation, active thinking, and confidence. Learning outside the classroom allows students to engage all their senses.

It also allows them to have new experiences, try new activities, and discover their true potential. Here’s how outdoor school can benefit your children. 

Develop an Appreciation for Nature

Children today are growing more and more distant from nature. In fact, many kids spend twice as much time playing video games as they do playing outside.

Today’s youth don’t know what it means to climb a tree, catch a fish, or hike through the woods. They’ve lost their connection to nature.

An outdoor school program may be the perfect solution to the indoor epidemic. When your child spends time outdoors during school hours, they will be free to explore, discover the natural world, and fall in love with nature.

As a result, they may be less inclined to play inside after school and more motivated to get back outdoors. This is known as the “follow-up” effect that is commonly associated with outdoor recreation or education programs. 

Encourage a Healthy Lifestyle

Spending time outside encourages a healthy lifestyle. When children play and learn outdoors, they will naturally get more exercise, reducing the risk of childhood obesity.

On top of that, the fresh air, sunshine, and interaction with the elements boost mental and physical health. Studies have shown that those who spend more time outside in green spaces experience less stress. They also experience a reduced risk of type II diabetes, along with other conditions.

Time outdoors also exposes us to natural light. This is crucial to developing a healthy circadian rhythm. More time outside correlates with longer, higher quality sleep at night. Better sleep leads to healthier kids, emotionally and physically.

Learning and playing outdoors throughout the week is vital. This is especially true for teenagers, who are experiencing more stress and anxiety disorders than ever before. Nature helps children and adults alike feel calmer. This leads to clear thinking and healthy interactions with others. 

Improve Academic Performance 

Many parents wonder if time outside distracts students from learning. Actually, it’s the opposite. Spending time in nature, whether playing by the creek or conducting a formal lesson outdoors, boosts academic performance

For one, test scores improve for students who learn outdoors. But self-esteem, conflict resolution, and motivation in the classroom all improve over those students who learn exclusively indoors.

Exposure to natural, green areas daily also improves children’s ability to focus. This leads to less restlessness inside the classroom, improving the learning experience as well as behavior.

Discover New Interests

Much of our student’s time in the woods revolves around learning traditional content, such as mathematics, history, science, and other subjects. But they also devote plenty of time to trying new things, such as fishing, boating, orienteering, and hiking.

They engage with nature in a way that most kids are no longer doing. This leads to children discovering new hobbies and passions that will instill a lifetime of outdoor exploration inside each of them.

Learn New Skills

When children spend time outside each day, playing and learning, they quickly gain new skills, both practical and behavioral.

One day, children might learn how to use a compass. Another day, they might be planting a garden, learning how to grow fruits and vegetables, or distinguishing between different plant species.

When allowed to explore outdoors, children develop a sense of independence. They learn how to problem solve, how to think critically, and how to collaborate with others towards a common goal. 

All of these skills work together to provide education for the whole child, not just the academic aspect. 

Fosters Environmental Stewardship

At Voyagers Community School, we are aware that everything we do has an environmental impact. As a result, we strive to operate as sustainably as possible. Our goal is to take care of the environment and limit our footprint. We do this by choosing eco-friendly products and supplies. We also participate in green energy programs to power our facilities.

And as our students spend time each day in nature, they learn that everything they do affects the environment as well. As they become participants with nature, they discover how our environment is changing every day.

So while they are developing an appreciation for nature, they are also learning to be stewards of our planet.

Apply For Our Outdoor School

It’s hard to argue with the benefits that outdoor school provides, particularly for young teenagers. At this age, social pressure and anxiety often distract students from learning. But spending time in nature’s classroom can motivate young learners like never before.

Are you interested in enrolling your middle school children in our outdoor school? You can inquire today about the upcoming school year to see if our program is right for you.

How to Create Work That MATTERS

Meaningful Project-based Learning Arises From Three Things:

Passion + Time + Mentorship

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

From the moment we are born, our journey of learning begins! As babies interact with their environment, they start to make human connections, process information and develop an understanding of the world. As each year passes, individuals expand upon their experiences and make sense of life from various perspectives: newborn, toddler, child, teenager, and finally as an adult.  Most people would agree that children are naturally inquisitive. Parents play a critical role in being our first teachers, as they place their children on a path to success by observing how they learn best, consider and support their likes and interests, and provide meaningful opportunities for their children to make deep connections with new experiences.  

At many progressive schools, teachers expand upon this type of supportive instructional experience through project-based learning.  Project-based learning provides opportunities for students to be leaders and explorers in their own educational journey. By designing their own unique plans of inquiry, students construct questions, formulate ideas, research and analyze information, develop critical thinking skills, and “own the content” on a deeper and more meaningful level. The unique personal desires, connections, and interests in a subject are valued and built into the curriculum.  By exploring their passions, students become immersed in challenging, higher level content and often forget that they are “doing the work” of learning. It becomes a joyful, productive process. 

Project Based Learning comes to life at many independent schools around the world. Voyagers’ Community School, in our own backyard, offers to their students Project Weeks, which takes place two times each year.  During these times, students create a proposal for an individualized, educational project, that defines the parameters and expectations for learning. With support from their teachers, students embark on high-interest explorations that culminate in dynamic school-wide presentations by each and every student. Through project-based learning, students may engage in artistic experiences, design solutions to local and global problems, conduct scientific research investigations, participate in historical simulations, etc.  During Project Weeks, Voyagers’ students let their creativity flow freely. They design projects for learning where they: 

  • Create and share podcasts highlighting student projects
  • Participate in the creation of artistic pieces: sculptures, paintings, music, etc. 
  • Invent practical solutions to environmental and social issues. 
  • Generate unique literacy pieces based on poetry, fiction, etc.
  • Explore and research careers of the future. 
  • Conduct interviews with experts in the fields of science, art, history, etc.

The outcomes of these self-directed, project-based learning opportunities leave students with a strong sense of pride and accomplishment. At the close of their studies, they eagerly share their new found knowledge, skills, and expertise with their peers, teachers, and parents. The success and excitement of Project Weeks clearly demonstrate that in the right environment, a student’s desire to learn and grow can be ignited. In a dynamic educational setting, that nurtures and challenges them to explore their own passion projects children stretch well beyond typical expectations. 

The types of executive planning and social challenges that students encounter and master during lengthy, focused projects prepare them for the manifold challenges that they will face as adults. Colleges and companies are looking for dynamic thinkers who will step into leadership roles and know how to collaborate as part of a team. These institutions are in need of out-of-the-box thinkers who will lead us into an unknown future. Children who engage in project-based learning are well equipped to take the helm.

Another benefit to early immersion into projects of one’s own choosing is that students are increasingly able to identify their own interests and, over time, develop true focuses. This benefits them throughout their lives, as they are more likely to follow their strengths and delve deeply into explorations, leading to fulfilling lives and careers. 

Working with others offers the opportunity to practice negotiation. Students socially construct knowledge by conversing during project work; effectively expressing one’s own opinion and desires, integrating the ideas and knowledge of others, and changing one’s mind or direction are all important skills for all ages. Students come to trust themselves as leaders, thinkers, and innovators who will lead the way to new developments and bring creative solutions to our planet. 

The desire to learn first begins with our parents and continues to grow through the support of many incredible teachers. As our children explore their passions and grow in their life experiences, Ann Landers implores us to remember this important advice, “ It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.”

Kadi Cook, at VCS since 2008, has a rich background in the arts and humanities She integrates many teaching styles and draws from various teaching theories, with a focus on the Reggio Emilia philosophy and Constructivism.

Alysson Keelen, a member of VCS staff with 29 years of experience in the field of Education, is certified with the State of NJ as a K-12 Teacher of the Handicapped , K-8 Elementary School Teacher, Supervisor/Principal, and School Administrator.