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1055 Willeo Road

Roswell, Georgia 30075

What Does A Nature-Based School Look like?

nature based class learning

A treasured part of the week for the Tie Dye Turtles Kindergarten/1st grade class is Forest Friday. That’s when students in the class taught by Rebecca Drage andShannon Hostetler spend most of the day in the forest learning, exploring, and building their classroom community. They jump over the creek, say hi to turtles, read in hammocks, cook on a campfire, make fairy houses, and write in their journals. Don’t tell them, but they are learning while having all that fun! They are practicing reading individually and aloud, using math to count firewood and measure items in the creek, and building their gross motor skills and confidence as they explore.

Building a Sense of Ownership and Follow-Up

The students start Fridays indoors by putting on clothes needed for the weather and grabbing lunches and water bottles. Then, they head out for the 15-minute hike to their forest classroom where they stock the nurse station, build a campfire, and settle in. They spend most of the day there learning and exploring.


Nature-based class learning

Students practice math while gathering firewood

“The students really feel an ownership and take care of the space that they helped plan, design, and set up,” Ms. Drage said. “They also develop individual ownership and follow-up as they have to remember to take their snack and water and have the appropriate clothing. We remind them that Mother Nature is in charge, so we need to be smart and responsible in our choices. When choices are poor, such as not bringing boots when it’s raining, there are natural consequences that teach students meaningful, real-life lessons.”

Connecting with Nature Fuels Minds and Bodies

Forest Friday started a year and a half ago when Ms. Drage and Ms. Hostetler wanted to find a way to connect with the outdoors and to engage students in meaningful, nature-based learning experiences. They were inspired by the book Balanced and Barefoot in which author Angela Hanscom writes: “Children are naturally curious and seek out opportunities to make sense of the world. When children are left to their own device, they experiment with their surroundings, take risks, make mistakes, and then learn from the mistakes. They problem solve, negotiate, imagine, and investigate.”

The teachers soon began taking their class to the forest for short periods of time. They discovered the hike was tiring unless the students had a chanceto rest and learn before heading back to the classroom. “We’ve learned a lot of things through trial and error, but our kids have been able to be part of the process,” Ms. Drage said. “When we encounter a problem in the woods, we have to problem-solve and figure out how to fix it together.”Balanced and barefoot

The teachers were committed to holding most of their Friday classes in the forest and quickly saw other benefits as well.

“Students are more motivated there to work together to find solutions, because there’s no easy fix,” Ms. Hostetler said. “They collaborate in groups to build bridges and forts, and when challenges arise, they are able to independently work through them to find the best solution. We’ve seen incredible growth in their stamina and perseverance, along with the powerful classroom community that is being built.”

Ms. Drage noted other benefits she has seen. “Our class has learned to support each other as they take risks and try new things in the woods. It’s amazing to see the ways we have grown and connected as a classroom family. It has also strengthened our co-teaching relationship as we take risks as educators moving our teaching outdoors.”

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, in the foreword to Balanced and Barefoot, wrote: “Too many of today’s children miss out on the full sensory richness offered beyond the walls of a classroom or home. Manageable risk and independent, imaginative play are essential not only to physical health but to the development of self-directed young minds.”

What Students Say

Teachers and education experts agree that learning in nature provides many benefits to kids. Here’s what a few of our students said they like about Forest Friday.

Hannah S. is a Kindergarten student in the class. She shared her favorite Forest Friday activities – and one that scared her initially. “You can jump over the creek or walk to a place to cross. Other people jump over it a lot, so I tried and got back over. It kind of scares me, but I do it. We build fairy houses and say ‘hi’ to the turtles. It’s fun, kind of tiring, and we get dirty. We get to hang hammocks sometimes, and swing, relax, and read books. It’s a two-person hammock, so we read together. At home, we look at weather apps so I can pick the clothes I need for Forest Friday. Sometimes it’s cold, so I bring more clothes.”

Classroom reading in hammocks

Reading in hammocks is a Forest Friday favorite.

William B. is a first grader in the class. “I like everything! We build fairy houses and houses for us. We jump over the creek. I’m not afraid of that. We hike, sit on logs, and have a root wall in the creek for climbing. We count things in the woods, like 1,000 sticks! We bring a jumpsuit for rain and rain boots or cowboy boots. We read, do math, and write in our journals. Once, we saw deer just standing there while we were writing. One day we were looking at frogs on a tree and didn’t see a snake. Then, I saw it and said ‘snake’, and we all ran away. The teachers made us go back and identify it. It was not poisonous.”

Last year, Kevin K. was a first grader in the class. He now encourages others to take action from what he learned. “I liked

buildingcampfiress, building forts, and cleaning out the stream. I feel like if you can’t have empathy for the environment then you can’t understand how living beings like trees and plants suffer and die because we cut down forests. If we have no plants or trees left, then we will suffocate because trees give us oxygen. Even if you think that you are not doing harm by pulling up grass on the meadow, if everyone did that then we would have no grass on the meadow. I cleaned up trash in the stream so animals wouldn’t eat it and die and then other animals would eat them and die. I thought it was important, and I couldn’t do it

Students learning outdoors

Jumping the creek and building bridges helps boost students’ gross motor skills and confidence.

alone. I learned you won’t last long in the wild on your own – you need your friends.”

It’s obvious from the words of these children and the passion of their teachers that the joy, wonder, and connection to nature that happens on Forest Friday are an essential part of the academic, social, and emotional learning experience.

Want to keep exploring? Learn more about our progressive, nature and play-based private school on a 42-acre campus near Roswell and East Cobb.

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1055 Willeo Road
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