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Lyme School 3rd grade teacher, Trisha Gautreau caught the PBEE bug 5 years ago when she took a nature writing course for professional development. That summer she offered a nature writing summer camp for students in grades 1-6 and witnessed the vast opportunities of using nature as a classroom.

“That first summer teaching outside was really transformational. I realized the incredible value of hands-on, place-based learning and we all enjoyed ourselves so much. So I decided to see if I could develop this further. Our principal, Jeff Valence has been incredibly supportive. He helped me put together a grant to ensure we had all the materials we needed, and he’s encouraged my professional development in this area as I’ve grown more and more interested.”

“Later that year, I visited the Ottaquechee School’s outdoor classroom and was inspired to join the Forest Kinder professional learning community led by Eliza Minucci and Meg Teachout. That group supported me as I developed my own curriculum and lesson plans for teaching my third graders in an outdoor classroom one day per week.”

Since launching Forest Fridays, Trisha has noticed some changes in her students. “While we see the academic benefits of using the forest as a classroom, one of the most interesting things I’ve noticed is that the kids’ social and emotional development has really improved outside of the traditional classroom. My students have developed new friendships on Forest Fridays. They spend time with kids that they don’t typically engage with when we’re in the school building.

When we are in the forest classroom, I see my students work out their differences in healthier, more productive ways. We aren't quite sure why this is, but it's a fantastic outcome."
Trisha Gautrea
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Ms. Gautreau’s Forest Friday schedule typically consists of a few minutes of mindfulness practice at the child’s “sit spot”, followed by forest learning groups, lunch, more forest learning, and finally, free play. Students write poetry, do math; all the things you would expect them to do inside the school building, just in a different, often more engaging environment.

One tip that Trisha has for other educators looking to teach outdoors: “Engage the community in your vision! Talk with administrators and parents often and see how they can help share in what you are trying to do. I had parents join us in the forest to help build our backpack rack and firewood shelter. We also have a wonderful community member who has come tap a few sugar maples with us two years in a row.”

“Forest Friday Family Fun Day was new this year. We wrote formal invitations to our families and invited them to join us for a day of forest learning. It was like Open House in the woods! Other classrooms occasionally come out to check out what we’re up to, as well. That helps build interest in our program from both a student and teacher perspective.”

“I plan to continue my professional development around PBEE this fall by joining Four Winds Nature Institute’s Upper Valley Linkages for Environmental Literacy program. I am really excited for that.”

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Field Notes is a monthly column highlighting the work of Upper Valley educators passionate about place-based environmental education. Do you have a story to share? Email us and let us know.