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Sustainability Efforts: Learning Without Boundaries, Lessons Found Outdoors

Sustainability Efforts: Learning Without Boundaries, Lessons Found Outdoors

At St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School, students enter our Nursery School program as early as three years old, and we want to prepare them to enter our ever-changing world and climate with a simple philosophy: Only when you truly love nature, will you have the desire to save it.  

Environmental studies is one of the fastest-growing college majors in the world. Universities are starting to recognize the need for adding adequate climate education programs to school curricula.  As is the case with many educational trends, when universities do this, high schools and elementary schools follow suit.  It is not hard to do a quick internet search and find a plethora of environmental sustainability curricula centering around teaching students the importance of the climate. Here at St. Patrick's, we have a long-standing commitment to sustainability and environmental awareness that runs through every grade.

Outside! Outside! Outside! 

This whole journey begins with creating a culture of outdoor learning. This can be difficult at an urban school, but sometimes it can just be gathering a few stumps and making a seating area outside.  At St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School, what started with a small platform has morphed into true outdoor learning classrooms and an environment of hands-on outdoor exploration.  Students are taken every day to our wooded playgrounds, gardens, and outdoor learning areas to learn, play, and explore. The key here is to remain consistent in all types of weather and create an expectation that students are always prepared for rain, mud, and dirt.  

Focus on Local

We believe it is important to steer student passions toward local issues. Children can find endangered plants and animals to help, even in urban schools. The more children can focus on the problems closest to them, the more meaningful and impactful the work will be.  

Empathy & Respect

The St. Patrick’s Sustainability Program has worked hard to create a culture of empathy and respect. This planet will only be saved by raising a generation of young leaders who truly love it and it starts at age three with reading stories outside about respecting the smallest creatures. It continues into kindergarten and first grade by exploring and creating animal habitats. Our second and third graders are learning about the invasive species threatening our ecosystems and the animals big and small that need our help. We often use the design thinking method in our outdoor classrooms to think about how to better the plants and animals that surround us every day.  

Create Meaningful Work

Meaningful opportunities for sustainability engagement are found in real-world problems. There are invasive species in parks in every region of every state. There is a need for pollinator-friendly planting, regardless of your location, and there are challenges that need the creative minds of our students and young learners. While behavior management is often a concern for teachers when taking students outside, there is no better response than engaging students in thinking creatively, getting their hands dirty, and solving real issues.  

Allow Perceived Risk  

At St. Patrick's, we prioritize fostering a secure environment that allows students to play safely both on the playground and in the woods. Practice and discuss safe techniques and etiquette with the outdoors. It is vitally important for students to have autonomy and power over their play and the more they are allowed to take these risks outdoors, the more their confidence will grow.