Connecticut school adding outdoor classrooms in woods

LITCHFIELD, Conn. (AP) — The Litchfield Montessori School will be adding outdoor classrooms in the woods by its property.

The project is expected to be done for the upcoming school year in the fall.

Over the last year, Head of School Cara Johnson and Wilderness Guide Ed Thorney has been working to expand its outdoor program to include more opportunities for all of the students, they said. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has given them permission to clear paths into the state park bordering the school.

The plan is to create a safe outdoor classroom for each grade level, Johnson said. Young People’s Community will be offered for children ages 15 months to 3 years old. Children’s house will be for those 3 to 6 years old and Elementary from grade to upper elementary.

Children are working with Johnson and Thorney to create these outside classrooms, they said.

Clearings in the woods will be maintained by faculty and students. A ring of benches will be cut from dead wood, so teachers can take their class outside and read poetry or work on a project, Johnson said. Teachers can also take students on a walking trail that leads to the nearby pond to study animal and plant life.

In a Montessori school the connection to the outdoors is really important, school officials said. The goal is to integrate a more natural environment, including natural lighting that is not found in a standard classroom. There is a diminutive outside environment for each classroom, more like a garden and playground, Johnson said.

Johnson was an outside educator and science teacher before her current position as head of school. She and Thorney both thought outside classrooms would go well with the Montessori curriculum with sensory learning.

Johnson spent countless hours exploring the woods by her family’s home. She credits her interest in science and nature to those hours spent in the woods.

Litchfield Montessori was opened in 1972. The founder of the Montessori schools, Maria Montessori, was an Italian physician, educator and innovator acclaimed for her educational method that builds on the way children naturally learn. She viewed the outside environment as a natural extension of the sensorial experiences in a Montessori classroom.

In a 2008 report, the Children and Nature Network reported that only 6 percent of children play outside on their own. In addition, there has been an alarming increase in the amount of time children spend on digital entertainment (averaging 53 hours a week), according to the report.

“That is really scary,” Johnson said. “The way that we approach the outdoors helps alleviate a lot of that, but we still have kids that rather be playing video games. The more we can do to introduce them to the wonders of being outside, the better.”

The school will have its Earth Day celebration Friday. Parents bring flowers and other herbs to plant in the garden. The kids take care of them through the remainder of the school year and some even come back in the summer to continue to tend to them even when school is not in session, Johnson said.

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Information from: The Register Citizen, http://www.registercitizen.com

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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