Outdoor day at Hill-Stead

Farmington students are empowered to learn everywhere they go!

by Nancy Nelson

Students from Noah Wallace Elementary School in Farmington, CT, participated in their first Outdoor Days on two glorious fall days on November 5 and 6 at Hill-Stead’s beautiful 152-acre property.

Organized by Ms. Nancy Nelson, kindergarten teacher, with Dr. Carrie Huber, principal, all classes from grades K – 4 were able to spend half a day getting outside in nature to expand their learning beyond the classroom.

Particularly with the ongoing health concerns during this pandemic, it is a great time to be learning outdoors. Research has shown the many benefits of time spent in nature—even two hours a week has been shown to improve children’s ability to focus, increase academic achievement, support problem-solving skills and enhance creativity. And nature affords many meaningful benefits to our emotional intelligence and mental health as well.

When considering how to bring this learning into the regular program at Noah Wallace, Ms. Nelson recognized the limitations of the school property, being in the center of the historic village of Farmington. Hill-Stead, just a short walking distance away, is a natural fit for this project. The beautiful grounds, gardens, and trails offer a plethora of nature study opportunities.

Classes were invited to choose activities from an extensive list of options including hikes, scavenger hunts, nature artwork, math activities, language skills, and physical movement games. Such educational outdoor activities allowed students to spend time observing, searching, describing, discovering, recording, and expressing their understandings in new ways beyond the classroom. Getting outside of the school walls provided students with a new perspective on their learning. Furthermore, it opened many eyes to the neighboring community and the incredible resources right around the corner.

Each Noah Wallace student was provided with an outdoor learning bag, featuring a magnifying glass, notebook for drawing & journaling as well as a pencil and crayons. Teachers also had trail maps, nature identification resources, scavenger hunt options, etc. Classes were able to choose several activities for their time outside, and everyone enjoyed hiking the trails. Teachers and students are all excited about returning to the Hill-Stead with their classes for more outdoor days and talking a lot about bringing their families to see the beautiful grounds on their weekends. Visiting the sheep was a highlight for many students. The furry friends appeared in lots of the writings and drawings kids made as follow-up work back at school.

The Hill-Stead graciously offered the use of the property to all classes, and we are looking forward to establishing an ongoing relationship where classes can take advantage of the outdoor opportunities many times this year, and look forward to exciting educational programs in the future when other field trips are possible again.

Noah Wallace students and teachers alike feel very fortunate to have the Hill-Stead museum in our community and are excited about continuing to visit and explore the learning opportunities onsite, enhancing the educational experience of all students this year.

Nancy Nelson is a kindergarten teacher at Noah Wallace Elementary School in Farmington, Connecticut. Ms. Nelson is currently pursuing another Master’s degree in Place-Based Education at Antioch University of New England. She is excited to incorporate outdoor learning, nature studies and community connections into the Noah Wallace program for all students.

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