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Taking Learning Outdoors

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Framingham, MA, November 1, 2020:  Students at Summit Montessori School in Framingham are back to campus this fall and taking the learning outdoors. Many important accommodations are in place so that they can safely conduct in-person learning this school year. These include an elaborate and varied drop-off and pick-up schedule; the wearing of masks by all but the toddlers; physical building alterations to allow for social distancing and smaller pod sizes; sanitizing like crazy; frequent handwashing; and increased and focused use of technology for educational purposes. 

One important area of focus has been the increased use of outdoor spaces as learning environments for students of all ages.  Summit has always honored and supported children’s need to get outside into nature each day, in order to run, swing, slide, climb, pretend, and explore. There is ample evidence that this type of activity offers not only physical but also cognitive and social benefits for kids. As stated in the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s “Usable Knowledge” series: “…the overall impact of time spent outdoors is clear: better physical health and wellness; increased environmental stewardship; enhanced creativity, concentration, and self-confidence; and stronger collaboration and relationship skills.”

This year the school has committed to giving all of their students greatly increased time to experience their prepared outdoor learning environments.  A few examples: so far this year almost all elementary music and art classes have been held outdoors. Most groups eat lunch outdoors daily. Several classes have been beginning their days outdoors, with activities including community meetings and circle times. All classes spend about 90 minutes per day outdoors, during which time they also have the opportunity to ventilate the indoor classrooms by opening windows and circulating fresh outdoor air. The school is committed to extensive outdoor learning throughout the school year.

Several years ago, with funding support from many Summit families, a “nature scape” environment was created as part of the elementary playground. As part of the addition, a nature trail and two log community meeting areas, built a wooden stage, and added two “native species” gardens (a pollinator and a berry garden) were added to the landscape. Significant natural elements were left in place: a woods-like atmosphere including trees, logs, sticks, various species of flora, and of course a range of animal species that find shelter in such habitats. Always a draw for children, this year the nature scape environment is in constant use. The Children’s House students, according to Marian Wallace, the Children’s House Coordinator, “love it”. “This is our happy place,” she states. “The children are making so many discoveries, and they are relating the discoveries to other learning.” 

Elementary students use this space for vigorous and creative play, but also for circle times, botany lessons, nature journaling, and class discussions on a range of topics. A glimpse of what Summit’s children experience every day can be seen in the pictures…vigorous, purposeful, and healthy exploration of all aspects of the natural world.