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Ashley Hall Life12/7/17
The Perfect Outdoor Classroom: A Nature Retreat in the Early Education Center
Over the last year, Early Education Center (EEC) teachers have noticed their student’s love of natural spaces and found objects here on campus. Last spring, faculty began discussing ways to document the children’s responses to nature and the Nature Retreat Project was born. The project was inspired by the faculty’s summer reading of the book Last Child in the Woods coupled with an on-site visit to the Laurel School in Northeast Ohio which offers a similar program as part of its nationally recognized preschool program.
Under the skillful direction of pre-kindergarten teacher Dana Molony, the search for the perfect Nature Retreat location began in early October. Wendy Robbins, the EEC atelierista, quickly joined the initiative to weave in Reggio-Emilia elements that would further support the program’s development. After a visit to Ashley Hall’s John’s Island property that features the school’s Sports Complex, it was immediately clear that it was the perfect place for this magical experience. Ms. Molony and Mrs. Robbins carefully prepared the property for exploration by creating paths in the forested areas surrounding the sports complex while teachers helped build excitement for each class’ upcoming immersion week.
During the month of November, each of the three Pre-Kindergarten classes traveled every day for a week to Johns Island by bus to take part in the Retreat. Following Reggio practice, the children served as “guides” as the group explored the wooded area. Students paused to examine everything from spider webs and fallen trees, to animal burrows and beetles. By visiting the same site day after day, the children were able to observe changes to the environment and build a lasting relationship with nature.
Not only was this an incredible learning experience for both the EEC children and teachers, but it also provided a cross divisional connection with the Upper School Science Department. Teachers from the Upper School science department joined the Retreat on select days to explore future collaboration opportunities which embrace the school’s Learning Spiral teaching philosophy.
Upper School Science faculty member, Allison Bowden, reflects on her EEC Nature Retreat experience:
Witches Broom and Wheel Bugs
Small hands pull a sweet gum near
I’ve never seen a purple leaf.
Flattened fingers become a cricket’s runway
I’ve never held a bug.
He reaches for a dried mat of grass
I think it’s in the duckweed family.
Dirt covered hand pinches a red berry tightly
It’s food for winter animals.
She holds a vine with twisting tendrils
They are double springs.