Magical Forest Mondays: How to Become Deeper Learners in the Woods

July 1, 2015

Meet Forest Monday: It's the one day a week — every week — when kindergarten teacher Eliza Minnucci takes her students into the forest for a full, immersive day of outdoor learning. The result, she says, is children who demonstrate more grit, perseverance, and resolve than they would have otherwise, and all because they each have the chance to explore and learn hands-on.

The Forest Outside: Opening the Door to Experiential Learning
As typical school days go, time outside — where students have free reign to explore, discover, and play (almost) entirely as they see fit — is often in quite short supply. From a young age, students who attend schools designed around a more traditional educational framework are charged with learning how to behave, absorb information, and sit still through long days of instruction. Many schools across the U.S. are starting to rethink this trend, and are giving their students the chance to get out from behind their desks and learn by doing.

The Ottauquechee School is one such public school in Quechee, Vermont, but it has something that many other public schools do not: a forest, located right next door. For kindergarten teacher Eliza Minnucci, the idea to use the forest as her classroom came to her after she saw a documentary about a Swiss school where students learn in the forest five days a week. And luckily, Ottauquechee's principal agreed.

Kids who are good at school need to understand there’s more to life than acing academics. And students who aren’t excelling at the academic stuff need to know there’s value in the things they are good at. Doing school in the forest offers 'something really important' to everyone.

Independence + Grit: The Benefits of a Forest Education
"There are very few rules in the woods," Emily Hanford, a journalist for American RadioWorks, writes in a MindShift piece. "Take care of yourself, take care of others, don't wander too far away; that's pretty much it. The goal is to let kids experience independence and help them learn the self-regulation skills that are so important to becoming a successful adult."

And the students, from scaling trees and sitting in their "sit spots" first thing in the morning (to better observe the changes unfolding along the forest floor), to figuring out how to build a dam and move a fallen tree trunk to do so, get to discover how things like force and motion work. On their own. They get to be resourceful, design and build their own projects, and test themselves in ways they wouldn't be able to in the classroom.

"Outside offers so much," Minnucci says. "It is sort of the deepest and widest environment for learning that we have."

The real payoff? When students come inside, happy and healthy, after spending a day learning outdoors. The value in that is immeasurable.


Watch the trailer for School's Out: Lessons from a Forest Kindergarten (Trailer) from Lisa Molomot on Vimeo.


To delve deeper into this outdoor learning experience, watch the documentary, read the rest of Emily Hanford's MindShift piece, and check out the Forest Monday blog. You can also find out more about American RadioWorks, the national documentary unit of American Public Media.

By Lisa Merlini

Tag: Exploring Education

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