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How Do We Incorporate The Outdoors at Sussex?

At Sussex we engage in intentional outdoor programs as part of the educational experience. Intentional outdoor programs are a key part of a Sussex School education and one of the cornerstones of our vision. Our teachers deliberately create opportunities for our students to experience the world outside their classroom doors in a multitude of ways.

This begins on day one:  Our new kindergarteners and our current first graders spent the first afternoon of school together on a field trip.  This is no accident, it is part of a conscious effort to use the outdoors to extend and enrich our kids’ school experience.

Sometimes, we venture into the natural world as part of our education, seeking to learn from and about the world about us.  The K/1 field trip on the first day was focused on that element of getting outdoors.  They were beginning their year-long partnership with the Watershed Education Network, the kindergarten service partner.  It was a chance to begin framing the importance of understanding the water all around us, a theme that will carry throughout the year in kindergarten.

At other times, our outdoor journeys are more focused on recreation, seeking to renew and refresh ourselves playfully.  This year, our middle school students have a scheduled morning recess, like our younger students. We also mark the beginning of our middle school adventure program next week, where our sixth grade students spend afternoons mountain biking, our seventh grade students spend afternoons kayaking, and our eighth grade students spend afternoons rock climbing.  While there are educational outcomes in place, our adventure programs also make space for challenging and well-supported recreation.

Here's a window into Sussex's intentional outdoor programming, and just what happened in the last week:

This past week, second grade students went to their sit spots at the Tower Street Conservation Area for the first time this year.  Each student selected a personal spot for the year.  In that spot, each will be afforded a great gift:  the time, space, and tools needed to connect with themselves and with nature.  I heard a little of their experience:  wind and rain, an enormous nest, and the creation of a rock compass.  Each time they return to those spots, they will be weaving a stronger connection to the natural world and to themselves.  This is, perhaps, our most powerful use of outdoor programming – as a tool for connection-making and community-building.

Next week we will head to Camp Flathead where our entire school will spend the week learning and connecting outside in one of the most beautiful places in Montana. We have been enjoying an all school camp experience for over 40 years! This trip is intentionally educational, recreational, communal, and most definitely, outdoors!

~ Greg Friedman, 2016 Director of Sussex School

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