From the August 2019 issue

Nature Experiences in School Sow the Seeds of Learning

Metro Parent's editor-in-chief discusses the nature experiences she had in elementary school and why similar hands-on learning could benefit kids today.

Plants starting to sprout from the dirt on a green background

At good ol’ West Utica Elementary, back in the time when malls were the place to see and be seen, we kids still spent a good chunk of time outside.

In our free time, we’d ride our bikes way out of our mom’s view, explore, climb or just gaze at the clouds from a little patch of grass in our neighborhood. And in school, we’d spend recess running around, blowing off steam and getting a daily dose of Vitamin D before anyone worried about Vitamin D.

But it was beyond that. I distinctly remember being led out of the classroom by several teachers who felt our education would benefit from an outside perspective.

From planting marigolds to studying the ecosystem of the creek that abutted our playground to gathering leaves in fall, we didn’t just read about the world we were studying – we experienced it.

Perhaps it helped that back then, West Utica was surrounded by a lot of undeveloped farm land filled with creeks and critters. Maybe it was because schools weren’t as worried about taking their little charges outside of the fortress of the physical building. Maybe it was because teachers weren’t as bogged down with “teaching to the test” instead of just plain teaching.

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Whatever the reason, it made the lessons sink in deeper than they could from any lecture, chalkboard (the white board’s educational grandpa), book and, dare I say it, video or computer demo.

A lot of schools and educators are realizing that and are making an effort to embrace the big benefits of busting through the walls of a classroom and extending their students’ education outside.

In this month’s issue of Metro Parent, you’ll read why it’s important (in case you still need convincing), discover who the trailblazers are and get tips on how you can ensure your child gets an outside education – even if it means adding more trips to nature centers and preserves to your family fun itineraries.

If you’ve got a child who struggles to sit still or tunes out lectures, a healthy dose of hands-on learning could be an educational revelation. But even if your child is perfectly content to read and listen all day like yours truly was, it’s still an additional perspective that can widen their mind, enhance their learning and leave them with lots of wonderful memories.

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