We're school shopping. Not in the sense of buying clothes and supplies, but we're doing that now-familiar to me ritual of spring-thinking about where the kids will be attending school next year. They're only going to be in Kindergarten and preschool, but this is what I do. I shop around.
L's current preschool is nice, beautiful, and they do a wonderful job with their outdoor area. For an urban school, it's a pretty large play space, with a few "traditional" pieces of play equipment, (swingset, monkey bars) but it's filled with natural features too: logs, shrubs to hide behind, large rocks and hills to play on. They are outside for about an hour each day. This school goes through 8th grade, and we may well keep her there.
We just haven't yet "settled" on a place for the kids to attend school. We dearly love L's school, and she will likely attend Kindergarten there next year. But, you know me, I love to explore my options, and I have just enough of an education/science background and just enough of an obsession with nature education that I'm a bit...well...picky. And I have pretty high expectations.
Here's how our process seems to go: I pick a school that I like, one that has an educational philosophy that I believe in/agree with/understand. I read book after book on that particular educational approach. I study the pros and cons. I talk to colleagues who teach, for their opinions on the approach. I look at how (or if) said school integrates nature into the curriculum, into the day. We visit the school. I pelt the teacher or principal with questions. All of which are along the lines of "Can I check out your outdoor play area?" "How long are the kids outside every day?" "How many times a day do they go out?" "What's your approach to nature education?"
Here are the responses I got last week from two schools. Both Montessori schools. Montessori, in case you didn't know, is an educational approach which emphasizes strong ties to the natural world, a deep appreciation for nature and "authentic" experiences in nature. Seems like a perfect fit?
When I asked how often the children go outside, one enrollment coordinator told me: (she actually said this!) "Children who come for a half day usually don't go outside at all. We leave that to the parents."
On to the next school. This visit occured last week, during one of our rainy, 40 degree days. Huge puddles everywhere, snow melting like crazy, a perfect day to be outside.
"How often would you say the children get outside?" I asked innocently.
"Oh they go outside pretty often." Ms. Tour Guide beamed. "Except, you know, when it's like this. Or really cold.You know, if the weather's lousy."
Who decides what constitutes "lousy" weather? I wanted to ask. Where's your weather policy written?
I'm so frustrated.
Why do schools "leave it to the parents?" Why is there so little value placed on getting kids outside-in all kinds of weather, every day? I know about barriers, I know why teachers don't do this stuff. But please, somebody, tell me, when is this going to change? Why do schools not get this?
BEING OUTSIDE IN NATURE IS IMPORTANT. It is good for brain development. It is good for physical development. It is good for the soul. Now why on earth is something with so many benefits not an integral part of every day, in every classroom around the country?
Clearly, people, we've got our work cut out for us.