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VOICES, April, 2016: Children Connect to the Outdoors at Brookwood School

When I was ten, my family lived in a small town in Indiana.  My sister and I spent hours running through the corn and soybean fields at the end of our cul-de-sac and climbing our favorite tree that stood, elegant and foreboding, at its entrance. In the summer, we rode around the neighborhood on our banana-seat bikes, collecting friends from their homes – a pack of girls exploring their world. We knew the time of day by the angle of the sun, and we knew when it would rain by the shape and color of the clouds.

Ten years later, I found my way to Outward Bound as a college student, and it galvanized my love for and belief in the power of nature. Whether reading river currents in a whitewater kayak or baking Dutch oven brownies in the rain, the environment itself was a vital teacher.  Even now, when I need to reconnect to my center, I find a place close to the earth.

Today, the rhythms of nature are a salve in our technologically relentless world.  Research has shown that children who spend time outdoors in the natural world demonstrate enhanced creativity and problem solving skills, decreased stress and increased resilience. Says author Richard Louv in his bestselling book Last Child in the Woods, “In our bones we need the natural curves of hills, the scent of chaparral, the whisper of pines, the possibility of wildness. We require these patches of nature for our mental health and our spiritual resilience.” For adults and for children, there is a profound experience being still, in observing, and in navigating an environment without customary conveniences.

At Brookwood, we embrace the value of connecting children with nature and have created vital teaching and learning experiences in every grade level.  Many occur on our richly resourced campus with its wetlands, vernal pools, Cutler Pond, walking trails, woods and outdoor classrooms; others use the tide pools, salt marshes, coastline and farms of the North Shore.

Our youngest students work with their hands in the earth, tending seedlings and nourishing butterflies and chickens with plants they have cultivated. They cut flowers for classrooms and harvest school-grown cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers. Students go on insect safaris and explore forest ecology, mapping the flow of water through our campus. Older students study bees and bee keeping with actual hives on campus and examine the intertidal zone at West Beach. They explore watershed biology and monitor the health of Salem Sound, stewarding other beaches and coastline by monitoring for erosion and invasive species. In each case, students see up close the ebb and flow of nature as they begin to cultivate a personal relationship with the outdoors as both a teacher and guide.
– Laura Caron,
Head of School