Imagine taking a walk in the Hundred Acre Wood, finding sticks to practice skip counting. Or curling up with a good book near a shaded knoll that looks like it’s straight out of The Hobbit — and is affectionately known by your classmates as “Bag End.” Or perhaps you’d rather take an Odyssey to Cyclops’s Cave on a rainy afternoon.
Those are the kinds of experiences that students at Cambridge School are having this fall. They aren’t just taking their math worksheets outside; the outdoors is now a permeable membrane that binds their experiences.
“We’re using the outdoor space as our stage,” said Heather Strube, assistant head of school. “We challenged ourselves to ask ‘how can we use our beautiful campus to facilitate the education process?’ And we found that we needed to lean more into our own educational philosophy.”
That philosophy is grounded in the teachings of Charlotte Mason, an early twentieth century educationalist. One of those teachings is to embrace education as an atmosphere. The environment and spending time outside has always been part of the curriculum at Cambridge; but COVID has challenged the faculty to embrace the environment as a co-teacher.
“We’re living more fully into who we want to be as educators,” said Strube. “When you have a certain set of restrictions on you, teaching becomes its own adventure.” The framework isn’t how does one teach within COVID restrictions; instead, Cambridge teachers are embracing the restrictions as an opportunity to rethink what teaching looks like at the school.
That positive mindset has shifted how education happens at Cambridge — and, in Strube’s eyes, for the better. For example, one of their most popular annual school activities is the sixth grade Hobbit feast, which culminates their eight-week book study of Tolkien’s classic tale. Food related activities have been removed from the curriculum because of COVID, so they had to reimagine what that culminating activity would be. The result? Parents and teachers worked together to create a “quest” through campus and Lake Roland. Students visited different stations to complete challenges and show their mastery of the novel.
“We reworked our entire curriculum around that culminating activity, and it was a much better experience than our previous one! We would have never explored that as an option without these restrictions,” said Strube.
Educators at the school worked together to investigate their outdoor spaces on campus that could be used for educational experiences. They identified nine spots and named them after the literature students read each year. For example, young students read Winnie the Pooh, hence why the school’s nature trail is now called the Hundred Acre Wood. Naming spaces allows for easier scheduling — and let’s be honest — go drop everything and read in the Hundred Acre Wood sounds way more exciting (and fun!) than let’s grab our yoga mats and read outside.
On average, K-5 students are outside three hours a day and middle school students are outside two hours each day. Working with parents, the school adopted the “there is no bad weather, just bad clothing” motto. The hallways are lined with boots, scarves, snow bibs, and hats. They can’t wait to integrate sledding into their gym classes!
“We are definitely realizing that being outside isn’t just a response to the outbreak, it’s more than ever a core part of our identity,” said Strube. “And we’re realizing that kids really are more resilient than we give them credit for. If the teachers put it in the verbiage of an adventure, they’re ready to go with you.”
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 Cambridge School, visit their directory listing in our Independent School Directory. Images were provided by the school. Want to become a school partner? Email us.