#4 – Vermont school creates Forest Mondays

Photo by Chas Goldman

Remember the good old days where everyone would play outside and explore the woods. Teepees were made out of giant branches, trees were climbed and leaves were collected. Sure, we scraped our knees, got our clothes filthy and probably got stung by a bee at one point, but we had the best time. Times have changed. As technology becomes more and more present in our day to day lives, it’s hard for kids to put down the tablet and move away from the TV to spend some time outdoors.

“Even in kindergarten, recess is being cut back. But in one small town in Vermont, a teacher is doing something different: one day a week, she takes her students outside – for the entire school day.”

Kindergarten teacher Eliza Minnucci created Forest Mondays after watching a documentary about a school in Switzerland where kids spend all day, every day, in the forest.

Every Monday, no matter what the weather is, the kids suit up and go to their home base in the woods next to their school, which they created with forts and a fire pit.

“First thing, the kids go to their ‘sit spots.’ These are designated places – under a tree, on a log – where each kid sits quietly, alone, for 10 minutes. Their task is to notice what’s changed in nature since last week.”

In addition to studying force and motion in a classroom setting, these kids put it to the test by using branches to give leverage while moving a downed tree onto a dam. They use sticks to make the letters of the alphabet and natural materials to paint.

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

“Minnucci worries that U.S. schools have become too focused on academics and test scores and not enough on “non-cognitive” skills, such as persistence and self-control. There is increasing attention on the importance of these skills, but Minnucci doesn’t think traditional school is set up to teach them very well.”

We love this idea and applaud Minnucci for her audacity to try something different! School these days is a high stress, high expectation environment. Kids can crumble under the pressure and forget about what’s important: lifelong education.

Students are machines. They process and regurgitate information daily, programmed to take standardized tests and receive perfect scores. While standardized test scores are important, they are not everything and should not be the only focus. Kids need a healthy mind to absorb information, and that can mean going out into the forest every week to learn through nature.

“Kids who are good at school need to understand there’s more to life than acing academics, says Minnucci. 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, she says.”

“Minnucci says scores went up more last year than any other year she’s been teaching. She didn’t set out to prove that one day a week in the forest would improve academic achievement. But it didn’t hurt. She says what her students gain from the experience might not be measurable, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.”

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