Students celebrate the outdoors and the season

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BONDVILLE — You won't be engaged in conversation long with The Mountain School at Winhall's Head of School Peter Ahlfeld before you hear him turn the phrase "Vermont is our classroom."

MSW, a small grades K-8 town academy, intentionally plans several lessons each week and monthly field trips with Vermont and the outdoors as the subject of, or backdrop for, its studies.Students in grades K - 4 take part in two hours of lessons, once a week, in any of MSW's three outdoor classrooms.

Outdoor Classroom Coordinator Marisa Powers developed her K and 1 Forest Friday curriculum several years ago, and this, along with Ahlfeld's vision led MSW's push into the outdoors, with the belief that exploratory nature-based play supports the development of the whole child, sparks curiosity in a sense of wonder, and instills a love of learning and connection to nature.

Powers believes that in Forest Fridays, "with every single task, students are learning. Experiential education outdoors immerses students in their learning in ways that traditional education models can't. With a holistic, learner-centered focus, students become invested in their education and foster a lifelong relationship with nature, their teachers, and classmates."

The grades 2 to 4 curriculum provides students with fully integrated lessons within the school's thematic units. Most recently, students learned the essential nutrients for tree growth and survival, inspected soil samples for biological and organic materials, and compared the sights and sounds of a tropical rainforest with the sights and sounds of their outdoor classroom.

Field trips this year have included visits to Hildene's Apples, the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum, Hildene's Seed Program, the Shelburne Museum, Burr and Burton's Mountain Campus, Emerald Lake, and the First Congregational Church in Manchester. Next week, students in grades 5 to 8 will travel to sections of the Long Trail, on Monday and Tuesday respectively, to work with members of the Green Mountain Club to complete their annual community service commitment to clearing water bars on the Long Trail.

MSW's new fitness and Spanish teacher, Travis Theile, has held all of his fitness classes outside this year, regardless of the weather, to allow students to learn and play outdoors. Recently, Theile worked with older students to harvest vegetables from and put to bed MSW's gardens and with all MSW students to create batches of cider from apples from the school's own orchard and from apples donated from Cortland Hill Orchard. Second grade teacher Michelle Aldrich added to the traditional fall activity theme by creating scarecrows with her students for their "sit spots" in their outdoor classroom.

MSW had planned to be outdoors as a school Oct. 31 in downtown Winhall for its annual Halloween Parade from 1 to 2 p.m., where students marched in costumes and received candy from parents, community members, and

local merchants.

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