Our Approach » Outdoor Integration

Outdoor Integration


Integrated Environmental Learning

Children are naturally curious and inspired by the world around them, especially the world outside. The outdoors offer an immensity and depth of exploration that is unmatched by nature-based indoor experiences. A child immersed with the outdoors during the different seasons has a chance to encounter, experience, and utilize situations and moments that will continue to arise within their lifetime, including those involving risk, observation, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, empathy, and creative thinking. The skills that each child develops and applies during these “nature moments” are foundational to higher-order thinking skill development because they are hands-on, in the moment experiences that are unique, involve all five senses, make an impression on the learning in the brain, and help form neural pathways.
Outdoor play and learning help children:
Assess risk
Overcome fears
Challenge themselves in nature
Improve physical development
Reduce stress
Improve sensory development
Increase attention and focus
Develop cognitive, social and emotional learning
Environmental stewardship also becomes a natural part of each child’s mindset when they have loved and appreciated the outdoors, learned why to care for the earth, and been active participants and problem-solvers in environmental learning.
Virginia Chance School’s progressive education approach allows for environmental exploration to be integrated and a part of the natural learning process. Student-led discussions and theme studies allow for all aspects of the natural world to come into the classroom and for the classroom to be in the natural world. Students are provided with opportunities to find answers to their questions, to integrate outdoor and environmental learning with their classroom themes and studies, to engage in after-school outdoor and environmental programs, and to participate in activities and experiences with the Director of Environmental Programs and the Environmental Program Assistant. Both classroom and specialist teachers utilize the outdoors and collaborate and integrate learning. Students benefit from multiple learning opportunities and graduate from the Virginia Chance School program with the applied skills of problem-solving, critical thinking and environmental stewardship which will support them in a global and fast-changing world.
Daily Outdoor Engagement
On a typical school day at Virginia Chance School, children are exposed to and learn in our natural environment. Students receive unstructured playtime on the playground surrounded by large rock features and trees, go on guided walks with a classroom teacher or specialist, are invited to explore campus features as a way to extend and enhance a theme study, accept an invitation to visit one of our gardens for planting, weeding and harvesting, and record observations and data utilizing math and literacy skills. Daily, students can use the natural outdoor environment as part of the classroom learning experience is a core element of our program. This outside time in a natural setting allows for opportunities and experiences where students ask questions and create discussions around a found natural object, collect natural materials for the classroom for building or creating art, engage in creative play, or take a hike through our woods to explore change over time or how our natural ecosystem is interconnected and connected to us. The Virginia Chance School’s integrated outdoor program is an essential part of the school’s curriculum and is experiential, discovery-based, and provides an exceptional learning environment for young bodies and minds. Children are regularly and consistently inspired and guided to value and care for our environment and the world as they engage in meaningful, real life, environmental experiences and lessons with teachers at the school.
Social, Emotional, and Moral Connections
Along with using their cognitive skills to explore the outdoor world and learn a vast array of processes, topics, and skills, students also utilize and grow their social and emotional skills in a variety of ways. Children play and dream together, engage in cooperative and imaginative play, learn to play games together, negotiate and resolve conflicts with one another, take risks as learners, and grow in their confidence. Additionally, intentional outdoor learning is part of our School of Compassion efforts, where each student makes a commitment to help people, animals, and the earth as a school community. Students learn about and make decisions about how to care for our earth through reducing, reusing, and disposing of waste properly (e.g. reusing materials in junk art stations, composting food and paper towels, and then recycling what they can before disposing of waste in the trash). Students learn about water and energy usage and make changes in life practices that will reduce our carbon footprint over time (they bring a reusable water bottle and eco-friendly low waste lunch boxes). Discussions and practices extend to how we care for the animals that depend on our natural spaces, including a school-wide animal theme and caring for chickens, rabbits, fish and other school pets. Students engage in learning, helping, and demonstrating compassion to others through a variety of projects, classroom experiences and learning, and engagement in school-wide compassion projects designed to help people.


Outdoor Spaces and Natural Features

Our campus sits on 26 acres of woods, fields, and wetlands. These types of landscapes offer opportunities for students to make sense of the world around them through exploring systems, change over time, food production, seasonal changes, patterns, cause and effect, structure and function, and energy flow. Their discussions, questions, curiosity, and wonder propel exploration and further understanding. Our campus provides areas for play, gardening, environmental testing and conservation, and caring for animals.

The Virginia Chance School Campus consists of numerous features for student engagement and participation:
Preschool Garden
Native Orchard
The Learning Greenhouse
Seasonal Vegetable Garden
Bird Blind
Goose Creek
Outdoor playground in natural environment
Chicken Coop/Rabbit Hatch
Compost bins
Classroom recycling and composting
Native Pollinator Garden and Monarch Weigh Station
Currently Growing in the Learning Greenhouse:
Acorn Squash
Butternut Squash 
Sweet Potatoes


School-Wide and Stewardship Initiatives

Virginia Chance School encourages student leadership and empowerment and provides opportunities for students to have a voice in their learning and to explore topics of interest to them. In addition to regular classroom learning, we also offer Enrichments and After-School Programs and Clubs. The School has a Green Team, a group of 4th and 5th grade students, who meet weekly for the school year and help the school uphold and expand our Green and Healthy objectives and educate our students, Faculty, and Staff on how they can help within our school and at home. Virginia Chance School is a Kentucky Model Green and Healthy School, and as such, we commit to following specific guidelines and participate in 9 areas of environmental stewardship where we are actively working to dispose of wastes properly, reduce greenhouse emissions, regulate and conserve water and energy use, practice proper health and nutrition, and protect our natural environment.
Through our process of learning about and carrying out best practices for environmental sustainability, we also practice stewardship and compassion. We have adopted the Mayor’s “City of Compassion Project” as a chartered School of Compassion. As a progressive school that is whole-child focused, we believe that social and emotional learning is just as important as cognitive learning. Our Charter of Compassion serves as a way for us to practice our social and emotional learning as we provide focused learning experiences in helping our earth, animals and other people.
As part of our environmental learning, Virginia Chance School partners with our community to provide experiences and learning opportunities to our students. We partner with The Louisville Zoo, local meteorologists, UofL graduate Students, local farms and farm suppliers, Louisville Water Company, and other environmental groups. The work our students do at school always has the opportunity to connect to careers, community concerns, and real-world events. Because of this goal, we are a part of the Louisville Sustainability Council, a network of environmental leaders in our community, and also partner with Bernheim Forest for professional development of teachers. Each day at Virginia Chance School, children experience innovative environmental and outdoor learning led by our Environmental Director. Children are inspired and guided to value and care for our environment and the world. We understand the benefits and vast amount of learning that occurs in children who are actively involved in outdoor education and play experiences.

How does outdoor integration at Chance School work?

How does it hit both developmental milestones and encourage growth beyond the self? Find out about our unique and meaningful outdoor integration through our yearly stewardship projects at Chance School, championed by our Director of Environmental Program, Rachel Beck:
Nature nurtures us! Come on outside and play, learn, become an environmental steward, and love all that nature provides!