Why Outdoor Learning?
Mount Madonna School Prepares for a Fall 2020 Return to Campus
By Ann Goewert, Ph.D.
There is something magical about learning outdoors, and Mount Madonna School’s (MMS) 375 acres of land includes groves of coastal redwoods and live oaks, mountain meadows, chaparral, and ponds. The ecological tapestry of biomes, rich with diverse life forms, provides an unmatched outdoor laboratory for our educators to engage students in a broad variety of learning experiences and opportunities, from the art of crafting stories to scientific inquiry and experimentation. Immersing students in nature and outdoor learning develops the whole student. Outdoor learning fuels the mind and ignites all of the senses. Through exploration and discovery, students naturally problem solve and build confidence. The sights, sounds, and evidence of life stimulates curiosity and creativity in students, and these firsthand experiences strengthen students’ connections and their sense of responsibility to be good stewards of Earth.
Meaningful educational experiences encourage students to solve complex problems, think critically about nuanced problems, and communicate ideas effectively. Many of us read Shakespeare’s Hamlet sitting in rows in a classroom. Now, imagine reading Hamlet in a shady redwood grove surrounded by the sights and sounds of the outdoors. This type of learning experience captures the imagination of students, encourages discussions geared to critical analysis of the text, and facilitates the creative expression of ideas.
MMS is investing in quality education to strengthen the mind, body, and hearts of our students. While many schools are grappling with space limitations, our school community is blessed by small class sizes and generous outdoor acreage. We have dedicated indoor classrooms for each grade, and currently, we are designing and building seven additional outdoor classrooms as well as an outdoor amphitheater. Educators and students will have choice and flexibility in where they learn. Like indoor classrooms, our outdoor classrooms will be furnished and equipped with shade structures, whiteboards, Wi-Fi technology and data projectors.
We are living in a historic moment in time, and Mount Madonna is committed to making a return to in-person, five-days per week school as safe as possible for students, faculty and staff. Likewise, we are determined to ensure that students thrive in our program, work daily on practicing mindfulness, and develop grit and resiliency.
What Does Outdoor Learning Look Like?
MMS has offered outdoor learning for decades. At present, we are expanding the opportunities for outdoor learning by creating a variety of spaces equipped with the comforts found in indoor classroom settings.
Learning Under the Big Oak Tree
This space provides ample room for students to physical distance, with flexible seating options. Using some recently felled redwoods, we have milled stumps for seating. Extra desks and chairs will be ordered for students who prefer to sit at a desk and chair. Student-supplied, personal camp-style chairs could also be an option for students who prefer to bring their own seating.
Existing Upper Campus Outdoor Classroom
The existing upper campus outdoor classroom has been a favorite of students for years. In this learning environment, many students choose to sit on one of the tree limbs as teachers lead class discussion or supervise quiet reflection. Others choose to sit on the wooden benches, or prop themselves against a nearby tree trunk.
Semi-Permanent Outdoor Classrooms
Our weatherproof outdoor classrooms will be equipped with Wi-Fi, waterproof covering, traditional desks and chairs, whiteboards, and data projectors. For inclement weather, we have the ability to provide shelter by adding walls and space heaters.
Progress on the Amphitheater
Work is happening every day on the mountain. This week, wall blocks are being installed in the amphitheater to create seating for our enthusiastic performing arts supporters. This space will also serve as an outdoor classroom:
MMS Amphitheater Work Summer 2020 (youtu.be/D5JFYWMBOyM )
Outdoor Learning Through the Years
Take a look at how our students and faculty have and will continue to pursue learning opportunities utilizing our beautiful, expansive, redwood forested mountain top campus: