Lower School Reflections: From the Desk of Dr. Gosnell

Published On: September 1st, 2022 | Categories: Food for Thought |

September 2022

When was the last opportunity you had to spend time in nature? How did it make you feel? If you’re like most people, time spent outdoors leads to greater ability to regulate emotions. In fact, there are several articles linked below supporting the benefits between time spent outside learning and academic, social, and emotional gains.

There is much support for finding ways to get kids outside. At Powhatan School, we use a framework called Nature Enhanced Approach to Learning (NEAL). NEAL is a lens through which we can teach any or all components of our curriculum, depending on the learning targets. We use NEAL to bring our students outside into the natural world and to bring the natural world indoors to our students.

The Crocker Conservancy adds a whole new dimension to the scope of the NEAL program which includes 47 acres directly behind the school as an outdoor laboratory for hands-on experiential learning. There are three main habitats on the Crocker Conservancy, including a wetland habitat, warm season grass and wildflower meadow, and hardwood forests. Each unique learning space offers real-world opportunities for students to learn and discover.

Yesterday, I joined a second grade science class as they ventured out to the Crocker Conservancy to explore. Equipped with their science journals and hand lenses, the students hiked up to an area that we recently dedicated to our Director of Physical Plant, Mr. Martin, who is retiring this week. The students set out to use their time in nature to explore and generate questions, record their questions in their journals, and then choose one to document with a picture next to the specimen that prompted the question. Students shared their questions with the class. The goal was to begin to think like scientists and to encourage curiosity about the natural world around them.

In preparation for the 2022 – 2023 school year, we made a few changes to our curriculum program to better support our NEAL program. You are welcome to check out a summary of our approach here: Approach to Science/Outdoor Education 2022 – 2023.

In a recent conversation, Ms. Coutts, our NEAL coordinator, commented on some of the changes by saying, “Consistently seeing students every day helps with going more in-depth. Less time is spent revisiting and reminding and more time is spent exploring content deeply. I love that Friday includes both homeroom classes so it is not such a long stretch out of science and we are able to explore and share. Students are not missing any of the seasonal science that happens around us and teachers seem excited to get outside with their students.”

As we enter into fall in a few short weeks, I hope you are able to find time to get outside as a family and ask your children about their experiences outside at school. Welcome back, it’s going to be a great year ahead!

Dr. Gosnell
Lower School Director


Book Recommendation: Burnout (Spoiler Alert: Getting outside is one of the many tools highlighted in this great read.) 

The Nature Pill:  Powhatan School – The Nature Pill: A Remedy for Stress in Children

Crocker Friday: Powhatan School – Crocker Fridays

Crocker Conservancy Video:  The Crocker Conservancy

KQED:  More Green Spaces in Childhood Associated With Happier Adulthood | KQED;

Sustainability at Harvard:  Integrating the outdoors into the school day | Sustainability at Harvard;

Harvard Health:  6 reasons children need to play outside – Harvard Health;

Sanford Health News:  Top 5 benefits of children playing outside – Sanford Health News