The Outdoor Classroom
Unstructured play outdoors, a staple of the Waldorf curriculum, brings challenges and experiences so beneficial for our children that it cannot be replaced by any other activity. Our school considers time outdoors absolutely essential to child development at every age. And while we all know that as New Yorkers we spend a significant amount of time walking outdoors on the streets, the environment we strive to give our children differs slightly from the usual neighborhood scenery of brick tenement buildings, metal fire-escapes, and asphalted playgrounds. We want students to not only be outdoors, but to experience the natural world — the smell of wild blossoms, the shade of ancient trees, dirt under their nails, and wind in their hair. In short, we want to give them access to Mother Nature.
The reasons for this are varied and numerous. Yes, it offers a very pretty place to play. And yes, it’s a pedagogical ideal of all Waldorf schools. But it’s also something that has been researched for the past 30 years in studies correlating time outdoors with physical health, psychological wellbeing, and cognitive functioning.
“Play in nature, particularly during the critical period of middle childhood, appears to be an especially important time for developing the capacities for creativity, problem-solving, and emotional and intellectual development,” says Dr. Stephen R. Kellert of Yale University. A 2015 study by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that 7-10 year olds with higher levels of exposure to nature demonstrated superior working memory and a marked reduction in inattentiveness. The California Department of Education’s 2005 study found that students in environment-based programs scored higher on standardized testing in reading, math, language and spelling. And a second 2005 study by The American Institutes for Research found that students receiving week-long residential outdoor education programs showed a 27% increase in measured mastery of science concepts; enhanced conflict resolution skills; and gains in self esteem, problem-solving, and motivation to learn.*
This research supports what Waldorf education has been incorporating into schools for 100 years: access to nature plays an essential role in learning and brain functioning for children of all ages. This is why the Waldorf pedagogy, which strives to educate the whole child — cognitive, social, and creative — prioritizes access to green space, even in large cities such as our own. Our school was given the rare opportunity to have a true green space in NYC when we took El Jardin under our wing some years ago, and our parents and faculty have worked diligently to plant, prune, and transform it into the thriving garden it is today. As our school now expands with a third kindergarten class in the fall and our pioneering 3rd/4th grade class takes up zoology studies, we hold an even grander collective vision for the garden that we’ve come to call the “Outdoor Classroom.”
In the Outdoor Classroom, children wander down a dirt path to a fully restored pond to watch goldfish swim about, passing leafy shrubs and flowers along the way that have been specially selected to attract our area’s native butterflies. Tree stumps pepper the ground in a great circle like giant stepping stones to leap across. Little hands build a sandcastle fairy village in the in-ground sandbox; little feet climb the rungs of a new wooden treehouse around the Willow tree. Older children teach younger ones how to turn the spigots of small water barrels to fill child-size watering cans with rainwater. Next to rows of tiny shovels and trowels, seeds are sorted neatly in seed trays, awaiting their turn in the plot. A three-year-old collects leaves in the autumn, filling a small wheelbarrow with her colorful specimens. A nine-year old pushes the same wheelbarrow in the winter, now brimming with freshly fallen snow earmarked for a snowman. In the spring the children huddle under a covered shelter listening to rain patter down above and collecting emerging earthworms from the wet earth below, and gaze out upon their world of nature against a backdrop of skyscrapers.
Our vision for the garden will take time, patience, funding, and hard work. But like our school itself, which blossomed from a small grassroots community into what we are today, we know that our garden can become the oasis we hope it to be. And one day our children will look back and remember that little block of Alphabet City where they came to truly know Mother Nature.
*Source: AWSNA blog “Essentials in Education” (read more here)
Lately at the garden…
(The 2nd and 3rd graders finished their shelter project made entirely of repurposed materials!)
Campus Development Update
We’re working on fine tuning minor details on our second draft of the lease at 41 Ave B while we continue to actively pursue other neighborhood options. We are pushing for a finalized lease next week. Keep your fingers crossed!
Last Parent Evening of the Year!
Wednesday, June 12
Thursday, June 6
*Maples moving on to mixed-age Kindergarten next year are encouraged to also join the June 12 meeting.
SAVE THE DATE
Monday Book Club
Book: Developing the Self Through the Inner Work Path in the Light of Anthroposophy by Lisa Romero
Monday, June 3
School Closed- Eid al-Fitr
Tuesday, June 4
Free NAS Simplicity Parenting Workshop
Wednesday, June 5
Led by Raina Blyer, a Brooklyn mom and Simplicity Parenting Coach.
Thursday, June 6
Bake sale and fundraiser for El Jardin. Stop by for baked goods in the courtyard!
School Closed- Teachers Clerical Day
Monday, June 10
LAST DAY OF SCHOOL
Friday, June 21
Summer Program Begins
Monday, July 8
FREE SIMPLICITY PARENTING WORKSHOP
Wednesday, June 5th at 8:45 am
New Amsterdam School
Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pastry Pop-Up Shop
Thursday, June 6
Mark your calendars for next Thursday! A Pastry-Pop Up Shop in the courtyard will be running all day, selling baked goods to raise funds for El Jardin. Pick up a pastry (made with love by a handful of our parent bakers) or simply make a donation towards the tool or project of your choice to help bring our Outdoor Classroom vision of the garden to life.
come garden with us!
GARDEN WORK DAYS
Join our parents, faculty, and alumni at an upcoming garden workday or membership meeting. No gardening experience necessary!
Saturday, June 1
Hosted by Erin
Saturday, June 8
Hosted by steering committee member and NAS alumni parent Adriana Hammonds
Saturday, June 22
Hosted by steering committee member Bonnie
Saturday, June 22
Become a member of the garden!
Congratulations Rubina, Greg, and Jim (Juniper class), and welcome to the world, Maia Grace Juliet, who was born at home on Wednesday, May 29, at 42 weeks and 2 days.
Enroll Now for Summer
With three weeks left until the last day of school on June 21st, it’s time to enroll for our summer program. Our program this year will run from July 8 to August 23, and you can customize your child’s schedule by choosing your preferred pick-up time (1pm or 3pm), as well as enrolling for only the weeks you need. Click below to learn more.
Did you know that your Amazon purchases could be raising funds for our school? Shop through Amazon Smile to easily help our school:
1. Go to smile.amazon.com
2. Choose New Amsterdam School as your selected charity
3. Shop as normal and a percentage of what you spend is automatically donated to our school!