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The school buses were the first clue that it was a special day at Portman Nature Preserve. The loud sounds of happy kids were the second. Five classrooms from Mattawan Upper Elementary School were using the preserve as an outdoor classroom – and the place was sparking with their energy.
Five third grade teachers – Brandon Bear, Jenn Omo, Jessica Coy, Amanda Meyer, and Kathy Sills — had put their heads together to create an enriched curriculum that tosses science, reading, writing, math, and social studies into one big salad bowl called nature. They set up five stations along Portman’s trails, each one focusing on a different subject, and (with parent chaperones) the kids hiked in large groups from station to station.
The kids blew off steam in between stations, talking loudly, scampering, messing around with each other. But once they reached the next destination, they quickly settled and listened to each teachers’ instructions with an amazing degree of focus. Gathered in a ring on the ground, one group intently filled in worksheets on phonetics. Another class worked together to write a Halloween poem. And another bunch squeezed together on the boardwalk at the edge of Lime Lake to sing along with Mr. Bear and his guitar, savor some snacks, and listen to children’s author, Julia Richardson read from her book Little Dandelion Seeds the World.
These kids are fortunate to have teachers that understand and appreciate the unique learning opportunities and health benefits that outdoor classrooms offer to kids. Many recent studies parallel similar results: outdoor education increases standardized test scores, makes learning more relevant, decreases stress and ADHD symptoms, boosts confidence, plus a long list of other positive outcomes that benefit children and the community.
Returning to the parking lot, the two school bus drivers had moved their lawn chairs into the buses’ shade. They waved goodbye with smiles, as content as the kids to be spending some time outdoors today.
– text and photos, Amelia Hansen, SWMLC Communications Specialist