As students in Ms. Egitto’s Kindergarten class approach the end of the week, an escalating excitement can be felt throughout the classroom. Soon, the students will abandon their tables, their crayons and their computers and head out into the forest for their scheduled “Forest Friday” time in the woods. Building on the concepts taught in Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods, faculty at Ryan Road school have placed an emphasis on getting their students out into nature. Partnered with the Hitchcock Center, teachers are purposely combating “nature deficit disorder” by scheduling time for students to be outside. But this is not just time where students are running around chasing each other or playing ball, this is very deliberate unstructured play time where students get to build self-confidence, body awareness, and begin to develop or deepen their appreciation for nature.
“Research indicates kids don’t spend enough time in nature,” Ms. Egitto shared. “So we go out and do our science and language arts studies outside. Students have to problem solve, push their own boundaries and learn collaboration and teamwork.”
With unstructured play time in a society that is overly structured, students get to decide what they want to do while outside on Forest Fridays. Sometimes they discover things that they want to learn more about, such as the coyote poop, that became a deeper discussion as the class was able to look at what the coyote consumed through dissecting the deposit with a stick. Students learn that while they can lift a smaller limb by themselves, with the help of a few friends, they can lift heavier limbs and begin to construct forts and shelters. They begin to understand their bodies in a way they often do not get to experience while in the traditional classroom.
“Kids love it,” Ms. Egitto said. “There are so many parts of Forest Fridays that are my favorite–it’s about building collaboration, kids working together, kids appreciation for nature. There are times we sit quietly and just listen to the forest… we hear the birds, we listen to the wind blowing in the trees and kids notice the trees creak where the wind was blowing–those types of things that kids just don’t get enough of.”
Written by Molly McLoughlin