Sara Schmidt is the Communications Coordinator at Mountain Sun Community School, a not-for-profit Montessori program. She is a native of WNC, a new parent, foodie and a dog lover.
Finding Our Place
A thoughtful outdoor component is something that I seriously seek for my child’s education. Like many parents, I want my child to grow up with all of the tools he will need to navigate the ever-changing world, both as a self-sufficient person and as someone who values connection with others. And in the midst of a global pandemic, flexibility, creativity and problem solving are much-needed skills in our society and the current environment. (These are those 21st Century Skills people talk about as being so vital in youth development!)
My professional background is in summer camp, and I wholeheartedly believe that any institution would benefit from a more holistic and mindful approach that is connected to nature. Thankfully, research continues to accumulate stating the benefits of outdoor education and play. And it’s not just about developing skills to excel in the workforce; time outside is also connected to a healthier and happier life.
Take It Outside
As long as we can safely do so, moving classroom spaces outside might be part of the solution, both now and in the future. This could look like STEM-specific lessons in the presence of actual biodiversity, it could be a sweet blend of multiple subjects within one teachable moment, or it could simply create a safe space that naturally promotes connection with oneself and the world around us, leading to a greater sense of well-being and confidence.
Imagine what life would be like if we all took three deep breaths in the natural world at the beginning of each new activity? Or better yet, what positive outcomes might ultimately develop from adhering to current safety guidelines when we gather outdoors? And do we have the support to maintain those new developments even post-Covid-19? (One day!)
Utilize Down-The-Street Resources
Another piece of the puzzle might be extracurricular activities that specialize in nature education or use of natural space. The Natural Play Project (NPP) is an initiative from Mountain Sun Community School that provides materials to families and educators, staff-led programming and ultimately a new outdoor learning environment for our community to enjoy. We are planning to break ground on the new space called Harmony Hill on campus in early 2021! The NPP is also an active collaboration with Rise and Shine, El Centro, The Family Place and Brevard Music Center.
Outdoors For All
Several of the early childhood programs in our community are already set up in this way, and I am so glad that they exist as options for families. However, many of them are not financially feasible for all, nor do they have unlimited space for children. Harmony Hill will exist to create opportunities for all families, regardless of socioeconomic status, color, culture, or physical abilities to access the natural world and the benefits that come from play in nature. It would be wonderful if our community collectively took advantage of our beautiful setting when it comes to early childhood education and made time outdoors a priority.
I hope that when the time comes, I will be able to send my son to a place that shares these values. I highly encourage programs in our community to take the research that exists to heart and consider adapting and expanding their curriculum to incorporate more learning outside of the classroom. And if our families must teach from home, let’s make more resources like the NPP available to use and set up outdoor opportunities for themselves. For the benefit and future of all our children.