Integrated Environmental LearningChildren 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.
Challenge themselves in nature
Improve physical development
Improve sensory development
Increase attention and focus
Develop cognitive, social and emotional learning
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.
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:
The Learning Greenhouse
Seasonal Vegetable Garden
Outdoor playground in natural environment
Chicken Coop/Rabbit Hatch
Classroom recycling and composting
Native Pollinator Garden and Monarch Weigh Station