Each year, our fifth grade students spend the year doing field work with Muddy Sneakers. The Muddy Sneakers program exists to enrich the standard course of study through experiential education in an outdoor setting where students connect with the land, become more active, and gain self-confidence while improving science aptitude. Muddy Sneakers began as a pilot program in the spring of 2007 with Brevard and Pisgah Forest Elementary Schools in Transylvania County and has grown each year to now serve 36 schools across 12 counties and 13 school districts in the Carolinas.
In early February, students had a fun outdoor science excursion. Students trekked in the woods (The Outdoor Learning Center) to observe a flock of robins searching for food, then searched under the leaves to find a few myriapods (centipedes and millipedes), spiders, and other fun creepy crawlies.
Next, students learned about weather measurement tools, cloud types, evaporation, air density/pressure zones, and how all these factors play together to create the weather effects we are all already familiar with. Teacher, Mr. Fenris, was the “Sun, the Great Evaporator” evaporating our 5th grade water molecules in a Red-light, Greenlight style game.
Finally, they built and decimated a model city with EXTREME weather (handfuls of leaves).
First grade students spent time outdoors learning about ecosystems as part of their science studies. The Outdoor Learning Center on our campus is a living, breathing, science laboratory and our first grade students love being in it!
Ask a first grade student at The Learning Center Charter School where their favorite classroom is and they will tell you outside. That is because students at the school spend time outdoors daily learning everything from math and science to social students and language arts.
Elementary science teacher Emily Willey takes her students outside at every possible opportunity. This fall she has had her first grade students outside participating in fall activities as students planted pansies to learn about cold weather crops. Students also donated old clothes and helped make a scarecrow for the garden by gathering leaves and stuffing the scarecrow.
“Being outside engages students by providing a living environment to observe, discover, experiment, nurture, and learn,” said Willey. She added that even though students loved playing in the leaves and getting their hands dirty in the garden, the time was also spent learning about weather, why some plants can withstand cold temperatures better than others, and autumn cultural activities.
“Our E-STEAM curriculum is taught using Project Based Learning activities that take place in a variety of spaces, both indoor and outdoor, on campus,” said Willey.
First graders spent time in one of the many school gardens collected marigold seed. This gardening activity was part of science class where they were learning about what plants need to live and grow. They also were learning about the life cycle of a plant.
Students at The Learning Center Charter School are outside a portion of each school day. The school has an official screened room dubbed The Outdoor Learning Center as well as numerous gardens and trails.
Students regularly can be found doing art, reading, learning science, participating in PE, learning math, gardening, or having recess outdoors.
“Having our students outside is just what we’ve always done,” said Shelley Farmer, physical education staff and STEM coordinator at the school. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math.
“Our campus sits right near the river and Cherokee elders have told us that it would have been prized Cherokee land,” said Farmer. “That in addition to the Cherokee people and culture so prevalent in our region, we make it a point to study the tribe, their language, culture, and traditions each school year.”
Farmer added that students are learning new Cherokee words each week. Students recently learned that osiyo means hello in Cherokee.
The school also includes traditional crafts in their studies. Students recently made Dream Catchers from natural materials found around the school’s Outdoor Learning Center.
“Being outside engages students by providing a living environment to observe, discover, experiment, nurture, and learn,” said Farmer. “Layering on the culture of the Cherokee Nation enriches those experiences.”
Students at The Learning Center Charter School are accustomed to being outside during the school day because teachers use the outdoors as an extension of the classroom as often as possible.
“Learning outdoors is a cornerstone of our educational philosophy,” said Ryan Bender, head of school. He added that the great outdoors provides the perfect setting for all subjects. “Most people will tell you that being outside is the perfect place for teaching a science lesson. And, they are right! But, the outdoors is also hugely beneficial when teaching reading, social studies, math, and art.”
According to National Wildlife Federation, American Institutes of Research, and the Sierra Club, when children are taught in the outdoors, better test scores, higher grade point averages, decreased behavior problems, and improved health are the result.
“We have an Outdoor Learning Center at our school that is a screened classroom,” said Bender. In addition to the classroom, classes also meet around the fire pit, among the school’s many gardens, and along the trails around the school.
Our school has always put an emphasis on being outdoors. Our teachers take students outdoors for lessons on science, to engage in garden based learning, to read and write in the outdoors, to engage in physical education, and for countless other reasons. It’s part of the reason we have a dedicated outdoor space that we call the Outdoor Learning Center. The outdoors offers an expansion of our classroom walls as well as the space for students to spread out and move their bodies.
As our new school year unfolds during the Covid-19 pandemic, be assured that our students will continue to be outdoors as often as possible.