“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
– John Muir
Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, Woodstock School has nature at its fingertips. On the walk up to campus, students have become accustomed to the rustle of green leaves, bright, clear views, and sharp bite of the Garhwal hillsides. For current Middle Years students, the vast forest terrain that envelops the school has only just been discovered. With an emphasis on building connections, social bonds, and personal growth, Woodstock School has inaugarated an educational program that taps into the great outdoors through weekly nature walks, hikes, and explorations every Friday. Outdoor Education Fridays, a program introduced this spring, can set an example in Woodstock School by highlighting the impact of a conscious approach to holistic education. Engaging with the environment can be a window into literature, poetry, art, conservation, and the sciences, so the experiences of Outdoor Ed can result in inspiration and healing for many young students.
As we have returned to in-person learning and the bustle of school life, there is a tremendous need for emphasis on the outdoors for children who have lost out on this opportunity in recent years. “The need of the day,” says Dr Bradford Barnhart, Head of Middle Years, is “social and emotional wellbeing,” and that is just one of the “many potential benefits.” The increased screen time and social isolation that have accompanied the pandemic have been a global issue, especially for younger students, who are at a fundamental stage of development. Time outdoors promotes creativity and connections among children, as they learn about topics relevant to the world around them. In addition, bringing students together in 3-dimensional spaces other than the classroom will be an opportunity for improvements in social skills, physical fitness, and mental health.
Dr Barnhart, who is spearheading the program, explains that the need for a heightened focus on wellbeing outside the classroom is a conscious response to the “isolation and dormancy factor” children have had to undergo during the pandemic. He continues, as he outlines the merits of outdoor education, saying that he has heard “expressions of hope [from parents and teachers] that we would try to help kids recover beyond the academic.” Research supports the idea that spending time outdoors can lead to tremendous benefits for middle and high school students, especially in the time of the pandemic. A study by the American Institutes for Research demonstrates that outdoor education programs often leads to improvements in academic performance and interest, cognitive function, and interpersonal skills, highlighting the infinite reach that the Outdoor Ed program can have on Middle Years Students.
Outdoor Ed Fridays aimed to accomplish its multifaceted and essential goal by partnering with the prestigious Hanifl Centre for Outdoor and Environmental Education to custom design a variety of outdoor activities that challenge students’ observation and adeptness in the natural world. Students are divided into small groups and given the opportunity to explore, learn and grow amongst their peers, surrounded by the open air of the Himalayan mountains.
The program also allows teachers and administrators to experiment with various strategies of outdoor education to devise methods of integrating the International Baccalaureate Programme with value for the natural world. Students develop the skill-based learning that takes place in the IB classroom, enhancing it through experiential education in the wilderness.
Along with the undeniable growth occuring in the social, physical and mental wellbeing of Middle Years Students as a result of the Outdoor Ed program, this new approach to the curriculum can set a precedent for the future of Woodstock and its relation to the mountains that we call home. “This is an opportunity to really engage with other aspects of who we are as people and our developmental processes in a very intentional way,” concludes Dr Barnhart, summarising burgeoning pathways in the journey of holistic learning at Woodstock.
Asha is a staff reporter.
Edited by Kyra