Outdoor Classroom

Our 3- and 4-year-old classes spend one day (Tuesdays for the 4s classes; Fridays for the 3s classes) every other week at nearby Long Branch. Children spend the full morning – rain, snow or shine – outdoors in unstructured play and exploration. In the event of rainy weather, we establish our base camp at a nearby picnic shelter, but we have learned that we don’t spend much time there, as the children are just as excited about exploring in the rain as they are in dry weather! Even on snowy days, the outdoor classrooms are still magical for the children! In addition, our 2-year-old classes and under-2-year-old classes will schedule days at Long Branch during the year so even our littlest friends can experience the wonder of a morning in the woods.

Why Outdoor Classrooms?

AUCP launched our outdoor classroom program in the Fall of 2014. After viewing Lisa Molomot and Rona Richter’s documentary “School’s Out: Lessons from a Forest Kindergarten,” AUCP staff members were inspired to incorporate more “forest time” in to our play-based curriculum. We are fortunate that Arlington has as many green spaces as it does, and we are thankful that we are able to take advantage of this. From the staff’s perspective, the outdoor classroom has been an inspiring and exciting journey as we watch the skills of the children transform before our eyes.

Some field notes from our outdoor classroom staff:

The social interactions among the children are unlike those in the classroom – girls play with boys, boys play with girls, and the quiet, more reserved children often find their voices and end up in positions of leadership when we are in the woods.

The dramatic play is enriched and extended beyond its usual course, because there is no limit to the number of items in the woods that serve as symbolic props in the story line.

Children become more observant and interested in reading because they wish to gain more information as it relates to their adventure. The children learn quickly they can enhance their play from the signs, the field guides, the markers along the path, and even the trash we sometimes collect!

Navigating a slippery bank or climbing over a newly fallen log develops gross motor skills in a way a structured playground doesn’t. Children must pay careful attention and adjust to the constantly changing landscape. In addition, the outdoor environment encourages reasoned risk-taking and personal responsibility.

The children’s time in the woods inspires a sense of wonder, both in the small details around them and in the larger changes from season to season.

Take a look at these great resources to learn more: