Kids running, making mud pies, catching insects—it’s not a lost art at Boulevard Elementary School.
Last week, kindergarten students in the school’s early childhood outdoor education program did all that and more in and around the cabin located near the wooded area behind the elementary school.
The program, now in its second year, aims to give young students, who are inherently curious, the opportunities to explore nature and discover what interests them as part of class during a regular school day.
Teacher Cari Richards started with the program last year with preschool students, and she moved up with them this year to teach kindergarten. Over the two years, she said she has seen their interests—and muscles—grow exponentially.
“They’re being introduced to bugs. They’re exploring. Their gross motor skills have developed so well so quickly out here just from climbing and digging. They’re using regular metal garden tools their size. They’re jumping. They’re running. Their muscles are growing,” said Richards.
During class last week, the students trekked from the elementary school to the cabin where they filed in and sat on tree stumps in the one-room schoolhouse-style cabin. The students were assigned stations outside the cabin and rotated through them.
One station was the “mud kitchen” where the students made mud pies and “cooked” them on the play stove. Another station, a music station, gave students the opportunity to take tools from a tub and make music on metal objects that were set up around the cabin. Students at another station wrote and drew on chalkboards that lined the edge of the woods. Students in another station climbed in and through trees, while students at another station ran and jumped along balance beams.
A pond also is behind the cabin where the students explore and learn about different wildlife that’s attracted to water.
According to Richards, the students spend approximately two to two-and-a-half hours outdoors daily. The rest of the day is spent in a classroom setting where the students learn in a more traditional sense.
The program is optional and open to preschool and kindergarten students. As word gets out that the program is available, Richards said the interest is growing. This year, she had four additional students join the class for a total of 19 students. The preschool class consists of 12 students.
“Some parents didn’t know enough about it to get their kids involved in it last year, so they jumped in this year. They were like, ‘Wow, that’s awesome. They get to be outside, play with bugs, enjoy nature,’” she said.
Parent Erica Morehead got her son, Kingston Fisher, involved in the program the first year. With all the technology available to kids these days, she said her hope was to foster a love for nature and exploration in her son.
“In my age, I feel like we were more outdoors. Now there are video games, computers, laptops, and all that other stuff that I felt like maybe if I can grasp him here we can do more outdoors and do it better,” she said.
Before Kingston started the program, she said he didn’t want to touch a bug and had no interest in anything slimy. That changed quickly, she said.
“Now he’s like, ‘Look what we got.’ He likes to collect the bugs and bring them and talk about them. And then just to hear them talk about how the clouds are gray and what comes out of them and to understand that at 5, 6 years old is amazing,” she said.
Morehead said she hopes the corporation eventually expands the program beyond kindergarten. In the meantime, though, she said hopes her son carries his love for nature into first grade and beyond.
With a growing early education program at KSC, corporation officials began looking at ways to add diversity to the offerings. It was then when officials began researching forest schools, which have thrived around the world, according to KSC Superintendent Jeff Hauswald. The outdoors, he said, act as a catalyst for learning by helping to make abstract concepts more concrete, which is something that students in early childhood may find more difficult in a conventional classroom.