Where is everyone? This question makes the class of kindergarteners crouched in the vegetable garden behind their school giggle, laugh, and do other joyful things that quickly reveal their hiding spots.

Kindergarteners hiding in a vegetable garden

This sunny fall morning was like many others this month. On Tuesdays and Thursdays mornings we, the nature based learning team at Anna Murray Douglass Academy School #12, have been taking classes out for the first half hour of the school day. This is just one activity in a school wide integration of nature based learning in the 2022-23 school year. Our goal is to offer every child in grades K through 8 nature based experiences that lead to wellness and academic success. There is plenty of evidence that this will work.

Pick any area of research like health, learning, or child development and there are studies showing that having crisp autumn air in their lungs as they walk across the field next to school stimulates young people’s minds and calms their spirit. That circling up to admire the nature art a class made together builds math skills and community. That going for a sensory walk around the pond and sharing what we observed strengthens the body and the skills of communication. That crafting a portrait of themselves from nature is an exercise that affirms identity and provides experience with scientific phenomena. This is just the beginning of the list. There is enough to back up the value of these activities through many ways of knowing, science just being one of them, that it is easy to see why this is the way time should be spent during the school day if we are serious about the health, well being, and future success of the children in our community.

We have an incredible opportunity in this endeavor. We have the resources and collaborative partners to have a significant impact. Already we have gotten more than 500 students at the school out to explore and enjoy the natural world. About 80 of these students were eighth graders who spent the day at Hamlin Beach studying the ecosystem and skipping rocks, some of them seeing Lake Ontario for the first time. If we multiply the number of students by the time we’ve spent in nature we have collectively spent more than 700 hours outside. These numbers are just the beginning. In the coming months we will build our capacity to serve more students with deeper experiences. Teachers will begin integrating nature based experiences into their project based learning plans. The children and families will tell us they want more. The opportunities for nature based learning will grow and with it the hope we have for schools that meet the needs of children living in a community with significant challenges. This is an experiment where success is essential, and assured if we continue to work together to make it work.

Today was a success. When I got to the classroom the teacher told her students I was there to go outside with them (again!) and I saw at least one of them do a fist pump or whatever the kids are doing these days. We lined up and followed a newly minted six year old who got to be line leader because it was her birthday out of the door. Once outside we transitioned from hopping like rabbits and wiggling like worms to listening like bats, our featured animal this week. We pair-shared what we heard and made our way to the tree to make lots of noise crunching in the leaves (because it is fall after all and you have to) and another round of listening like bats. The hiding game in the garden was a practice in using senses to find or not be found (and also a good time) and the final stop in our journey to play the “bat game”. The birthday girl got to be the first blindfolded bat trying to tag the bell shaking moths while the rest of us were trees. Listening to the happy sounds they made while we played and learned this morning is enough data for me to know outside is where we all should be.

-Chris Widmaier, Executive Director, Rochester Ecology Partners

Nature Based Learning at Anna Murray-Douglass Academy School #12

What is nature-based learning?

Nature-based learning occurs when education is connected to the natural world. Students can participate in outdoor experiences that complement and enhance the curriculum, or bring outdoor artifacts and ideas into their classrooms to create more robust educational opportunities. For the 2022-23 school year we are working together to offer experiences that get the school community more connected to nature.

Nature-based learning is: 

  • Nearby nature field studies connected to the curriculum
  • Community building experiences connected to nature
  • After school environmental clubs 

Why is nature-based learning important?

  • Healthy communication and improved reasoning skills
  • Improved emotional, mental, and physical health
  • Improved academic performance 
  • Greater school, students, families, and community connections

Who are the nature-based learning partners? 

The Center for Youth: Earthworks Program & Rochester Ecology Partners are partnering with the ADMA School 12 to offer nature based learning opportunities.

Anna Murray-Douglass Academy School #12  is a K-8 school in the Rochester City School District. Learn more
The Center for Youth: Earthworks Program aims to create a physically safe and emotionally supportive environment, where people develop resilience, self-confidence and an appreciation for the natural world. Learn more
Rochester Ecology Partners serves people in Greater Rochester through nature-based learning and community building. Learn more

Help Us Get Everyone Outside

Rochester Ecology Partners is a nonprofit organization that relies on people like you to make nature based learning experiences part of the school day for students at AMDA #12 and schools across the city. We appreciate any contribution to this mission you are able to make.