By Katie Wahal, Director of Communications at New Garden Friends School
As a child, I was always doing things outdoors. “Go play outside,” was a commonly uttered phrase by my mother, and my siblings and I, along with a network of neighborhood kids, seemed to spend all our free time running from yard to yard. Tried and true games like “capture the flag” and “tag” were favorites, but we made up a good amount of our own fun as well. Even though my mother has since affirmed she could always see us from the kitchen window, it felt like absolute freedom. Similarly, that sense of childhood independence manifested itself on camping trips in the summer with friends and other families. Our parents would wave us away to play in the woods while they set up the campsite, and later we’d make s’mores and crowd together in a tent to tell ghost stories.
As a parent now, I wonder what outdoor play will look like to my children. Will their only experience of “Kick the Can” or “Four Square” be via YouTube videos? Will they know what it’s like to create their own fun outside? Or have unstructured parts of their day? Many schools today have foregone outdoor time to accommodate expanding curriculum demands and a mounting list of extracurricular activities doesn’t leave much time in the day for kids to play. But not all schools operate this way. New Garden Friends School serves preschool through 12th grade students with two campuses in Greensboro, and outdoor education is paramount to their program.
Outdoor education involves an emphasis on the natural world in varying facets: Environmental stewardship is taught throughout grade levels; the Lower School campus houses chickens and is adjacent to the expansive Guilford College Garden in which the School tends a plot; learning goes beyond the classroom on extensive class level trips that enhance the curriculum and support the development of independence, adaptability, compassion, resiliency, and social responsibility; and, students of all grades go outside, multiple times, every day.
Play is part of the day. There is considerable research that suggests children learn best when they are able to have breaks outside. Benefits are seen cognitively, on a social-emotional level, and physically. New Garden has made this a priority by giving young children opportunities for free play and guided play, and by incorporating outdoor time as a set part of the scheduled academic day.
Beginning in third grade, students take fall and spring overnight trips that immerse them in a world outside their comfort zone. Children are challenged to apply life skills in a variety of situations: learning how to set up a tent, camping in the woods, rock climbing, hiking, comforting a homesick classmate, navigating a ropes course, canoeing, and most of all how to interact with their teachers and peers in a new and challenging environment. It is through these experiences that students become aware of their obligations as responsible local and global citizens.
Students hail these trips as hallmarks of their NGFS experience. Alumni remark that learning how to camp was “life-changing,” while a current 6th grader will tell you, “It’s the most fun you will ever have.” New Garden’s trip program is truly one of a kind and is a unique differentiator among schools.
Interested in learning more about New Garden’s outdoor education program? Visit us online, www.ngfs.org, or give us a call, 336-299-0964
- Sponsored by New Garden Friends School