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Helping Every Kid Be An Outdoor Kid

Posted Thursday, November 2, 2023
Recreation and Public AccessNews
Backs to the camera, a group of kindergarteners run and disperse to explore a grassy field on the edge of a forest.

Stowe Elementary School kindergarteners eager to connect to their natural surroundings.

Two kindergarteners bend down, point, and inspect an eft spotted on a patch of moss.

Apple Tree Learning Center youth befriending an eft on conserved land.

Launching a Learning Landscapes collaboration 

Thanks to an expanded collaboration between Stowe Land Trust and the Stowe public schools, more kids are getting outside.  

This past summer the Learning Landscapes collaboration broke ground by establishing the first outdoor classroom on-campus at Stowe Middle-High School.  

The classroom consists of 11 benches hand-constructed by community volunteers and land trust staff. These benches are placed amphitheater style in an open green space that has been used by educators in the past and is accessible for all students along a paved pathway within a short walk from the middle and high school campus.  

By enhancing the space from an open grass area to an outdoor classroom with seating, educators can now teach lessons outside that were originally designed for an indoor classroom. The planning and execution of this classroom was spearheaded by a dedicated coalition of educators, administration, and land trust staff. 

Conserved lands close to school, a great start 

Learning Landscapes is a national effort which aims to build more accessible outdoor classrooms within a 10-minute walk of schools and to support educators in utilizing those classrooms year-round for interdisciplinary instruction.  

These spaces and supports will allow teachers to bring their lessons outdoors – deepening the connections between their students and the place they live, and providing numerous benefits for student learning, behavior, and development.  

Since 1987, Stowe Land Trust has been connecting community members and visitors to the places they love. The more than 7,100 acres of farms, forests, rivers, and public land protected are central to the Stowe area’s culture, economy, and identity.  

Some of these iconic properties  already within a 10-minute walk of Stowe’s schools. Places such as Sunset Rock and Mayo Farm are walking destinations for Stowe Elementary and Strawberry Hill farm provides access to trails and fresh water for engaging Stowe Middle and High Schoolers.  

However, sometimes, protecting the land isn’t enough. More is needed for outdoor classrooms to be developed and used. 

What about benches, signs and more? 

Easy access to spaces like these is a primary reason many chose to live in and visit here, but it is not an experience shared by all. This is especially true for our school-age children, who are spending less time outdoors than ever before. Spaces such as Sunset Rock provide access to nature but do not have the infrastructure, such as seating, to make the space an effective, everyday learning environment. 

Local educators and schools are looking for ways to instill a sense of place in their students, and to help them get outside more often, but are faced with many competing needs and limited resources. As a trusted partner of local schools, summer camps, and afterschool programs, Stowe Land Trust is uniquely positioned to help meet their needs. Through the Learning Landscapes collaboration we are strengthening our commitment to the next generation. 

Building momentum, gardens up next 

The partnership was recently awarded a Vermont Community Foundation Spark Connecting Community grant to re-establish a greenhouse at Stowe Elementary School, which will be part of helping to revitalize the school’s garden. The Spark Connecting Community grant program puts building and nurturing community front and center. The Foundation aims to support the work happening throughout Vermont’s 251 towns that builds social capital. These grants—where a small amount can make a big difference—are intended to light the spark that keeps Vermonters healthy and happy. This $5000 grant will help further the partnership’s mission of connecting school age youth to their sense of place and increasing their academic, behavioral and emotional outcomes by providing an accessible outdoor classroom space.  

“I see how powerful learning outdoors is every time we go out,” says Beth Bradford, a kindergarten teacher at Stowe Elementary School. Beth’s class routinely ventures into the outdoors surrounding Stowe Elementary, but the outings’ lack of infrastructure and official classroom status means her classes’ favorite spaces could be jeopardized in the future. “Creating these spaces will be game-changing for our students and staff,” says Beth. “We’ll have the resources to truly create a culture that connects our kids to this special place and help them thrive as students.” 

Contact Us for more information and how to get involved

Support continuing the momentum for the Learning Landscapes program today