As a forest school, the Little River Outdoor School uses curriculums that are hands-on and nature-based. They have been developed specifically for early childhood education in the outdoor environment, and meet the standards for elementary-level education established by the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The philosophy behind our curriculums is simple but profound: Children learn best when they are able to freely explore the natural environment and learn through real life experiences. Our program improves the health and focus of a child, while also providing them with an appropriate environment to relieve stress, think critically and persist through challenges.
General Curriculum: Exploring Nature with Children
Our general curriculum, which includes all subjects but focuses on literature, science, and social sciences, is based on Exploring Nature with Children by Lynn Seddon. It is designed so that the lessons coincide with things that the children are observing and experiencing in the natural environment.
For example, in the fall as the weather changes, temperatures cool, and the leaves begin to change color, we will have lessons on subjects like the science behind photosynthesis, how animals and plants react to the changing season, and why we have seasons to begin with.
In the spring as life blossoms in the forest, we will have lessons about specific insects and animals including information about their habitat and food sources. We will then actually go out into the forest and find those insects or animals and observe them.
At the same time we are studying these things, the children also read about them and do art related to these subjects, so all the lessons are tied together and reinforced by the real-world experiences the children are having. The result is a very high level of retention of information compared to what would happen in a traditional classroom.
Math Curriculum: Wild Math
These books move students beyond traditional memorization to a deep understanding of math concepts by using a three-step approach: Building Facts, Using Known Facts and Developing Efficiency. One unusual but very effective tool in this process is having students write about the math they are doing, which helps them think critically about the process.
Being a forest school, whenever possible and practical we incorporate nature into our math lessons. For example, when learning about fractions, we find sticks in the forest and divide them into quarters, thirds, etc. as a visual representation of the mathematical concept of a fraction.
A Typical Day at Forest School
Now that you know a little bit about our curriculums, let’s take a peek at what a typical day at forest school actually looks like to give you an idea of how it all comes together.
Our day begins when the children arrive and we all build a fire together (weather permitting).
We get settled in and the children set their backpacks down before we head over to the barn, where we collect the eggs, feed the bunnies and the chickens, and say hi to the cows and the horses and all the animals.
We then make our way back to the fire circle, where we do our “opening circle”. This consists of setting a goal for the day and singing our morning song, “Give Thanks Every Day”. This is followed by a morning snack time.
Following the morning snack, we dive into study time, which consists of subjects like math, reading, phonics, or whatever we’re working on at that time.
Afterwards the children have free time where they're able to do as they please. They often explore the woods and look for plants or animals that they are interested in, or work on building things out of materials they find in the woods.
This free time is followed by another lesson, which is usually a group lesson. We'll talk about fungi or migration or certain animals, or whatever it is that we're learning about at that time.
We then eat lunch together, and after lunch there is more free time for the students. Usually at this point we depart the main area where the fire circle is located. We may hike down to the creek and see if we can find any turtles, frogs or salamanders, or we may walk over to the pond and go fishing or kayaking. Other days we might walk over to our octopus forest and climb in our trees—whatever activity the children are interested in on that day.
After afternoon free time, we come back to the fire circle, eat a snack together, and end our day with “apples, carrots, and onions”:
- Our “apples” are something we liked about our day.
- Our “carrots” are something we're grateful for.
- Our “onion” is something we didn't like about our day.
We finish by singing our closing song before the children leave for home.
Little River Outdoor School Handbook
Click here to download our handbook for the elementary school, which contains all our school policies, information about required clothing and supplies, and everything else you’ll need to know as the parent of a child enrolled at Little River Outdoor School.
Click here to download the handbook for the preschool.