By Rebecca Holcombe, Director of Community Programs
Yale recently published an article that surveyed research concluding that spending just two hours per week in nature can result in feeling physically and mentally healthier. This winter, hundreds of children will get in their two hours per week by learning outside, either on Common Ground’s campus or on their own school grounds.
While the garden sleeps, the frogs hibernate deep under the wetland, and the forest is quiet, our campus continues to be busy with children arriving each weekday morning for winter field trips. We celebrate the teachers who are ready to get outside with their students in the winter, knowing that the benefits of outdoor learning do not stop when temperatures drop!
Fifth Graders from Columbus Family Academy joined us this month for a morning of campfire cooking. Students learned new vocabulary as they collected “tinder” and “kindling,” practiced new skills as they built several styles of mock fires, and had new experiences as they gathered around the fire and roasted bannock bread dough to eat.
Second graders from Hill Central Music Academy were full of wonder as they entered the high tunnels on the farm this week. High tunnels are greenhouse-like structures that are passively heated by the sun. Cool weather crops like kale and spinach can grow in our high tunnels through most of the winter. Students were amazed to leave the cold January air and step into the warm high tunnel and see all the bright green spinach, ready to harvest. After harvesting their own spinach, students practiced math and reading as they followed a recipe to measure, mix, and knead pizza dough. What a treat to learn about CT grown foods, and practice vocabulary, math, and literacy skills while making your own farm to plate pizza on a field trip!
Outdoor learning in winter continues on the campuses of New Haven Public Schools, too. Our Schoolyards team is visiting classrooms across New Haven, supporting teachers in integrating outdoor learning into their school days and academic goals. This month, students at Celentano School will learn about decomposers in their classroom and then go outside to their school grounds to find real life evidence of decomposition in action! Students at East Rock Elementary School will enjoy a winter Habitat Hike, participating in a guided walk through their school’s gardens and outdoor learning spaces to see what sort of winter habitats might be available for native animals and insects.
In all, our Schoolyards team expects to help NHPS teachers get hundreds of students outside onto their school grounds this winter for exploration and learning, and about 1,000 students will join us at Common Ground this winter for campfires, hikes, cooking, and time in nature. New Haven students are getting their essential two hours a week in nature!
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