While the global pandemic has pushed the boundaries of how our children are experiencing education, some schools were eager to leverage the opportunity to encourage students to fully immerse themselves in nature.
Prior to COVID-19, the Waldorf School of Baltimore already had a focus on time outdoors in nature. But with emerging guidelines from the MSDE and CDC, the school’s team was excited to push their boundaries into complete outdoor learning for their Children’s Garden. The preschool and Kindergarten classes began the year as scheduled in four separate cohorts with two teachers for each cohort.
“Working with volunteers and school officials, each teacher set up very special outdoor learning spaces with age-appropriate features and activities” said the school’s Executive Director Pat Whitehead.
Highlights include luscious garden spaces, gentle tree swings, and sandboxes under canopies. Circle time, painting and craft work, snack and forest exploration all take place in each class’s custom-designed outdoor space.
“We are fortunate enough to have a beautiful, extensive campus that allows each class to have a space without overlapping other classes,” Whitehead said. “Additionally, they all have access to the forest trails if they’d like to explore those or have a picnic lunch out there too. Only last week children watched the caterpillar to butterfly cycle as a new butterfly emerged and later were excited by the discovery of frogs, small toads, and rollie pollie bugs in the forest.”
But not all of the Children’s Garden students returned to campus on the first day; some families wanted a little more time before feeling ready to be back on campus. They were pleased to join the school’s home support program. Bethe B., who has a student in first grade as well as preschool, opted to keep her children home. In true Waldorf fashion, the home support program emphasizes experiential learning and developmentally-appropriate learning activities.
“Even though we are at home, it is wonderful to be able to access the resources provided any time it fits into our schedule,” said Bethe. “My younger child loves seeing his teachers’ faces while they sing songs and tell stories. He is able to watch them again and again if he wants to. We also love to be able to work on the crafts together as a family.”
For grades 1 to 8, school began in distance learning with administrators working to gradually bring grades back to campus. While the majority of their instruction occurs in outdoor classrooms, small class sizes and a large indoor facility also allows for lower and middle school students to socially distance during the times if they need to be indoors.
“Every classroom has at least two large windows that open to let fresh air in and we upgraded our ventilation systems over the summer,” Whitehead said. “This allows us to hold indoor classes in the event of inclement and dangerous weather conditions.”
Currently, first and second grades spend the most time on campus for in-person, subject class learning several afternoons each week. While the other grades, third through eighth, are engaged with distance learning. Eventually all of the grades will spend time on campus according to a carefully planned and thoughtful schedule. “We look forward to welcoming grades 3 and 4 who are scheduled to return next week” said Whitehead with a smile of her face.
“We believe first and second graders need the most in-person time developmentally,” Whitehead said. “Their brains are not yet suited to be absorbing large amounts of screen time, so we are trying to safely get them in front of their teachers as much as possible.”
And when it comes to winter? Past years prove it’s not a problem to have the children outside – even in the snow. The school rarely closes for snow days.
“Snowy days at school are some of my most favorite days,” Whitehead said. “I love to watch the children go sledding when there is enough snow. They just get so much joy out of it.”
To learn more about the Waldorf School of Baltimore’s developmental approach to learning, visit their website at: www.waldorfschoolofbaltimore.org.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of our School Spotlight Series. In this series, we spotlight our partner schools to give you a glimpse into what learning looks like on their campus. To learn more about Waldorf School of Baltimore, visit their directory listing in our Independent School Directory. Images were provided by the school. Want to become a school partner? Email us.