While many area schools shuffled to increase outdoor spaces as part of their instructional plan at the start of the pandemic, Cambridge School took a slightly different tactic: they embraced the outdoors as an integral part of their curriculum. That meant teachers weren’t just moving their lessons to an outdoor venue; the outdoors played an enormous role in how students learned.
And you know what? It worked. It worked so well that “the outdoors” has become a tenant of education at Cambridge School, and they are investing to make sure it stays that way, starting with the hiring of a new Outdoor Education Coordinator this fall.
While the role may be new, Ann Kumpf is no stranger to Cambridge. Her children attended the K-8 school fifteen years ago, and she joined the faculty as a fourth grade assistant teacher last year. She brought with her years of experience as an occupational therapist with a focus on nature-based therapy.
“There is so much research that shows how good nature is for mental health, motor skills, and social skills,” said Ann. “So I come at my role from a lens of nature enhancing overall childhood well-being.”
Her job as Outdoor Education Coordinator is not only to interact with students, but to provide support and training for all of Cambridge’s teachers as they integrate the outdoors across all facets of their curricula. It’s a concept that may seem abstract at first, and she’s finding that some teachers have adapted more easily than others. One thing that isn’t wavering, however, is a commitment to integral education. Teachers have seen how nature has a calming effect on students and how a simple environmental change can positively affect how students work together.
So what does outdoor education look like? First graders hone their observation skills writing in nature journals every week in the school’s “Hundred Acre Woods.” Or they build elaborate playscapes during child-led free play with moving parts like curtains, ropes, and baskets. When students were learning about transportation, they built boats in their classrooms and then observed what happened to them when they sent them floating in the stream. Fifth graders learning about ancient China built terraced rice paddy models in small groups, working on social-collaboration and problem solving skills while engineering natural materials.
The possibilities for imaginative and intentional instruction are endless. And Ann is taking the second half of the year to help Cambridge teachers push their objectives even further.
“There is so much value in how Cambridge embraces the whole child across the curriculum,” said Ann. “I plan to continue to build background knowledge for teachers and help them increase their vision and capacity.”
“As a Christ-centered school, we believe in the wholeness of the child. That’s the framework by which we engage in the wholeness of the curriculum and the wholeness of the learning process,” echoed Head of School Heather Strube. “We’re not making connections for students but rather revealing them.”
We look forward to hearing how this process evolves as Cambridge continues to embrace the outdoors!
Editor’s Note: This article is sponsored by Cambridge School. To learn more about the school, visit their listing in our independent school directory. Images were provided by the school.