Getting kids outside is focus of film

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CHESTERFIELD, N.H. — A film to be previewed at the Chesterfield Elementary School on Jan. 30 presents the case for connecting children to the outdoors.

"When kids are outside, it's hands-on learning," said Liza Lowe, an early childhood educator and mother of two children attending the school. "Their senses are engaged in tactile learning. It makes the learning more real and solidifies the lessons for them."

At Chesterfield Elementary, a portion of the curriculum is built with the out-of-doors in mind, but it is driven by the students and what they experience on their adventures.

"The teachers have their lesson plan for that day," said Lowe. "Then it might shift based on something the kids might find. It changes the course of the learning."

Learning at Chesterfield Elementary, which educates students in kindergarten through eighth grade, is aided by an abutting 23-acre parcel the school purchased in 2016.

"This has been the evolution of the purchase of the land," said Lowe.

Following the purchase of the land, teachers began to integrate the fields and forests for hands-on lessons about things such as food webs to animal tracking to studies of Native American history.

Teachers at the school were so excited about the program that they wanted to share the experience with other people. And with that in mind, an Antioch University alum, and a Chesterfield resident, Chris Hardee, set out to document the activities at the school and its effects on the students and their learning.

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"The fact that kids are not outside anymore is troublesome to me," said Hardee, who no longer has children in the schools. "The fact that Chesterfield Elementary is doing something about it feels great to me."

In 2018, Hardee began following the students with his camera. His short film, "Turning School Inside Out" will be shown in the school's gym at 6:30 p.m. It's free and open to the public.

This is the second documentary Hardee has worked on focusing on nature-based education. The first, "The Best Day Ever," followed kindergarten students in the outdoor learning programs at Marion Cross in Norwich and Hartland Elementary.

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"I was really tickled to see it happening right here in Chesterfield," said Hardee.

"The big idea with the film is to show other communities, schools, teachers and administrators that this can happen," said Lowe. "It can help transform schools."

Lowe earned a Master of Education and her Nature-Based Early Childhood Education Certificate from Antioch University New England in Keene. In 2016, Lowe, the founder of Wild Roots Nature School, was named New Hampshire Environmental Educator of the Year by New Hampshire Environmental Educators. She now teaches the Working with Families and Communities course in the certificate program at Antioch. She also helped form a professional learning community at Antioch called Inside-Outside: Nature-based Educators of New England formed in response to a growing interest in nature-based education.

"Just having a discussion outside makes the learning more real," said Lowe. "You're out there watching the trees moving in the wind rather than sitting in a classroom with overhead lights looking at a picture of a tree."

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Lowe said outdoor learning also benefits the social lives of the children.

"Some students are really struggling in class," she said. "Kids that didn't use to play together or were having a hard time connecting find a sense of ease when they're outside and they are able to work together."

Ellen Doris, who directs the Nature-based Early Childhood Certificate program at Antioch, said there has been a lot of enthusiasm recently from teachers about nature and place-based education.

"We offer courses that help teachers think about how to work with kids outdoors," she said.

The two films are just one way Antioch hopes to spread the word about the benefits of outdoor education.

The film is made possible with the support of the George B. Storer Foundation. It will also be screened at Antioch on Feb. 15

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext 151, or raudette@reformer.com.


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