For many years, students at Bright have enjoyed the view of the outdoors from the classroom, playing outside during recess, exploring the science pond, and working in the garden. We’re going a step further by launching a new initiative focused on outdoor learning this fall for junior pre-kindergarten, pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes.

Early childhood teachers spent the summer planning lessons and learning about how to incorporate the outdoors experiences into their teaching, and they will be visiting other schools with established programs to learn more about what can be done at Bright. Teachers read Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv, who discusses studies that identify nature as an essential component for physical and emotional development of children.

Students will have a day set aside each week to explore, discover, and participate in outdoor learning experiences around the campus. Students will bring boots and a jacket to keep at school in case it rains on their outside day.

“Allowing our students to connect with nature during these early years is vital to their growth and development as learners. With teachers as their guides, students will be encouraged to take risks, ask questions, encourage each other, and build self-confidence,” said Assistant Head of School Christy Lusk, who is working with the teachers on the new initiative.

Luckily, the school already has many outside areas perfect for learning, and these will be utilized and improved upon. Lynn Shelton ’87, whose daughter Merritt graduated from Bright in 2015 and daughter Evie is a rising first grader, will work with teachers as an early childhood eco-literacy specialist. Lynn, a certified master gardener, has worked many hours in the early childhood gardens and pollinator beds beside the Early Childhood Center building, transforming them into robust areas bursting with vegetable plants, herbs and many flowers.

Students have already been working on the garden the last several years, planting seeds, watering, harvesting and tasting the crops. Most of the vegetables are donated to the Chattanooga Area Food Bank. The Early Childhood Enchanted Forest Playground will have an area dedicated for digging and a mud kitchen, which is exactly what it sounds like. The new log cabin will serve as a meeting place, and students will explore the trails in the woods around the school, examine the plants in the courtyard, meander through the labyrinth on the hill playground and learn how to use the sundial at Peeples Pavilion. They will keep field journals of what they see over the year.

There is growing evidence of the physical, cognitive, emotional, and social benefits of outdoor education for early learners, and Bright is not the first and certainly not the last school to venture into the outdoors. An article in a recent issue of Independent School Parent magazine noted several reasons to offer outdoor experiences: Students understand that learning happens everywhere, not just the classroom. Outdoor learning leads to greater resilience because students are encouraged to take appropriate risks, be challenged, ask questions and ponder.

Developing a love and respect for nature and how we interact with the environment is key to the mission of Bright, where students learn to become “wise and compassionate citizens of the world.”