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Nurturing Connections with Nature and Others

Written by BMS teacher, Jenni Heartway.

Even with temperatures well below freezing, it is easy to reflect on one of the things I appreciate most about Blue Mountain School: our outdoor space. The school’s eight-acre campus contains so much more than the typical play yard with swings, slides and climbing structures. With its off-the-beaten-path location and its untamed surroundings, Blue Mountain School provides our students with frequent opportunities to engage authentically with and in the outdoors.

The access BMS students have to the natural world is rarely found in schools anymore. The amount of outdoor recess and physical education time in many schools has dropped drastically in the past ten years, and the number of students being diagnosed with attention problems has increased. In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv highlights some of the challenges our society now faces as a result of this "nature deficit."

At Blue Mountain School, however, we actively work to nurture our students' connections with the natural world. We see recess as an important learning opportunity, which is why you will see teachers carefully watching and talking with students during this time. We pay close attention to the interests and questions that develop from their time outdoors.

In addition to recess, you will find BMS students outside every day for one activity or another. The older students have "sit spots" where they peacefully observe and connect with nature each morning, and the early learners take their snacks into the forest during outdoor explore time. Enrichment classes often extend outside to find inspiration, art materials, or space to stretch and feel the energy of the wind. When the weather is nice (and even sometimes when it isn’t) students and staff often head outside for lessons.

While many of us in Floyd County are fortunate to live in places where our children can play outside independently, at Blue Mountain School we are also providing children with the chance to combine rich, deep outdoor play with peer interactions. Students are able to co-create games, rules, and even worlds. They gain self-control and problem-solving skills and learn to navigate conflicts. They also learn to work together as a collaborative group.

This unique connection with nature and the social emotional learning that occurs there benefits children greatly when they enter the classroom. Students are ready to focus, they feel safe, and they are more connected to their peers and teachers.

At Blue Mountain School, the natural surroundings that have been home to the school for more than twenty years play a key role in nurturing both the mind and heart of our students, which is central to our mission.

(Typically the edges of natural spaces (forests, creeks, meadows) are more diverse and provide youngsters with more chances for interesting discoveries and creative play. Children naturally gravitate toward these places as you can see from the hideouts, forts and trails the students at Blue Mountain have cultivated in the woods encircling the school.)

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