When you ask parents about the happiest moments of their childhoods, you often hear stories about time spent outside — the family camping trip, the simple times in the backyard underneath the shade of an apple tree, the make-believe games that emerged in the outdoors, the sense of discovery and freedom while biking with friends, the awe of laying beneath a night sky replete with stars.

At an intuitive level, we all understand that kids need time outside, and that kids can learn so much while outdoors. Nevertheless, we are living through an era in which too few kids have sufficient time outdoors.

Fortunately, this trend of short-changing time outside is beginning to change. In the September edition of Outside Magazine, Emily Sohn chronicles this shift in Classrooms Without Walls. She notes that “a movement to ensure students receive ample outside time has been ramping up, a rare positive side to the pandemic.”

As the pandemic pushed many aspects of life outside, educators began to re-emphasize the outdoors — embracing school gardens, the joy of recess, and myriad learning opportunities that only the outdoors can offer.  Jeanne McCarty, the CEO of Out Teach, a nonprofit that trains teachers how to offer experiential lessons outdoors, notes: “More than ever before, there’s an appetite to reimagine learning, and outdoor instruction can be a key component of that.”

At The Denver Waldorf School, we have always understood that a connection to nature is foundational to our learning as we cultivate a love for the world around us. We lean into the wisdom of time spent outside, and we embrace the learning opportunities, the growth, and the discovery that the outdoors provide.

It may seem odd that an urban school in a rapidly growing city would nurture a strong connection to the great outdoors, but that is precisely what we do — nurture connections to all that is beautiful and good within nature. And thankfully, there are many parks, gardens, and gulches that surround our urban campus as well as mountains, rivers, forests, and spaces beyond!

Whether it’s our 3rd graders working their hands in the school plots at the Rosedale Community Garden, the 12th graders doing plein air painting in Harvard Gulch, or the 5th graders studying the living world through botany – our lessons often extend beyond our physical classrooms on an everyday basis.

On special class field trips, you can find our younger grades exploring a state park, or experiencing their first camping trip together. Our annual class trips for our older grades are a beloved aspect of our education – whether it’s a week-long river trip or a field trip to the farm, class trips provide the opportunity to deepen our relationship with nature and one another – allowing plenty of time for exploration as well as service!

And of course we make plenty of room for play during outdoor recess in all seasons! Free play in the outdoors is a breath out for our students after taking in an academic lesson – giving room for movement to keep our students engaged and ready to learn.

We are always grateful to be able to soak in the many benefits that nature provides for social, emotional, physical, and academic development.