The Outdoor Classroom – An Education in Nature
The Outdoor Classroom is a program that has been with the school for over seven years, and was conceived and developed by Ms. Donda Hartfield. This program is unique to our school, and gives our students a way to connect to their natural environment in a meaningful and expressive way. Spanning around the North- East corner of the school, our Outdoor Classroom is a beautiful natural trail, with gorgeous wildflowers, Utah-native plants, trees and geological treasures. The school also hosts a natural amphitheater, where Ms. Donda gives lessons and instructions before the children are free to explore on their own.
Through activities, lessons and especially time set aside to spend within the natural environment, our children learn about their world and it’s beauty. They come to understand the fragility of a plant, the necessity of a flower, the purpose of a bee. Miss Donda has enjoyed many years of her students’ discoveries, and she shares with us her teaching experience:
“When a student makes references such as, ‘The leaves of the California poppy look like reindeer antlers’ or, ‘I found a see-through plant’ I can celebrate that these students are taking time to observe their natural environment closely and therefore, they are learning about natural nuances and details that make our world uniquely beautiful and effective.” She continues by saying: “When a student shows deep concern for a tree that has string tied to its branches for bird-feeder ornaments because ‘It might be pulling down on the branches,’ I know I can trust that she is learning to care for her environment.” “It is through these kinds of observations that I can smile and know that these students are appreciating and relating with their surroundings in a memorable way.”
It was a great pleasure to attend the first Early Childhood lesson on “Land.” Miss Donda said to the children: “Look under your feet- you will see the land.” “I am standing on the land, you are standing on the land.” Her lesson reflected the great importance of the land. The children were able to dig holes in the soil together, but were asked to then fill the hole back up. There lies a genuine metaphor here: if you use the land, you must return it. The children might not know at such a young age what they are cultivating by their participation, but they are becoming considerate and thoughtful citizens of our remarkable planet Earth. Just as the Montessori Classroom places great trust in the hands-on learning process, so does the Outdoor Classroom program at MCS. The children learn through what they are able to see, touch and smell, and through the rare feeling of human freedom that one gets from living presently in nature.
Miss Donda tells us: “There is so much to be gained from simply engaging in our natural environment. And by engaging, I don’t mean necessarily hiking up to the summit of a mountain. Engaging is truly listening and looking at the landscape, the rivers, the trees and plants, the sounds of the birds and the passing of the clouds. Engaging is attending to our own naturalness through the breeze and the movement of the leaves, as well as the rise and fall of your own breathing and the subtle, yet profound connection between the two.