Espe: Princeton Schools designs outdoor classroom

I have exciting news: Our children at the Primary and Intermediate Schools will be able to learn and grow, using an outdoor classroom! The dream began when Tom Ostroot, who is the science specialist at the Primary School, was involved with the architects, as the Primary School was being designed. He mentioned he wished to have the opportunity to keep students involved in science by teaching them outside. It was then that we all started to talk about ways to capitalize upon outdoor learning.
At about the same time, a teacher at the Intermediate School, Becky Pollard, was given the opportunity to go to a workshop to learn about how to teach outdoors all year long. She was inspired by the idea, and she used the techniques all year, last school year.
It was the vision of these two teachers that started this project. A few weeks ago, eight teachers went to a workshop to learn about the importance of outdoor learning and how to get started with it. The group gathered afterward, and they talked about the benefits of an outdoor classroom, and how to proceed in an affordable way.
You may ask why outdoor learning?
• It helps students socially, as well as physically.
• It increases motor skill development.
• It nurtures students in creativity.
• It helps students to learn to work together.
• It encourages an outlet to handle stress.
• It opens doors to students to learn to appreciate nature.
According to Becky Pollard: “You can teach anything outdoors. Everything imaginable is adaptable to outdoor learning.”
Our new space has several areas in the design. We found space on the grounds of the Primary School for these areas:
–A climbing, balance area: This area will have log steps and a natural balance beam.
–Gathering area: This space will have log/bench seating for 32 students.
–Music and movement area: It will have a non-directional ground level stage, an outdoor marimba and bench seating.
–Dirt digging area: This will be an in-ground dirt digging bed with a rock-lined perimeter.
–Building area: This area will have a table and stump stools, ready for any kind of building.
–Messy materials area: This space will be provided with branches and other natural building materials, ready to build.
–Multipurpose area: This area will have picnic tables, for a variety of activities.
–Nature art area: This space will have an art panel and stump stool seating.
–Science observation area: This area will have a picnic table and storage for close observation tools.
Right now, this outdoor classroom is only in the design phase. We have a staging area outside of the wooded area where it will be located, and a community member has already donated some large logs. We will be depending upon our Princeton community members to help us to build our outdoor classroom.
We are putting together a list of needed materials and opportunities for volunteering. Would you like to get involved? Please let me know if you would!

Dr. Julia Espe is the superintendent of the Princeton School District. Reach her by email at [email protected]