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Nature's Classroom

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Nature is the classroom for students at the Audubon Nature Preschool in Chevy Chase, MD.
Sabri Ben-Achour
Nature is the classroom for students at the Audubon Nature Preschool in Chevy Chase, MD.

By Sabri Ben-Achour

In recent years there has been a movement to make the natural world a bigger part of the classroom. Some schools are taking that one step further by turning the natural world INTO the classroom. A preschool in Maryland is based on the idea that the environment is a valuable teaching tool.

A chorus of 4 and 5 year olds sings a new frog song they’ve learned at the Audubon Nature Preschool. It's part of an ongoing unit on amphibians.

"Can you think of any ways that frogs and toads are the same? Samantha?," asks a teacher. "They hop," answers a student.

This is one of the short periods of time that these children spend in their inside classroom. Soon they bustle out the door and into 40 acres of adjacent nature preserve. This is the outside classroom.

"Look at the little tiny leaves! Buds," they shout.

The children fixate on gelatinous piles of frog eggs and pause to hear distant woodpeckers. The curriculum here is based on this: the seasons and creatures outside. Stephanie Bozzo founded the school four years ago.

"If we provide an educational environment where they get their hands dirty, experience the world with their whole bodies, they’ll take more away from it," says Bozzo.

That's born out by studies, according to Eliza Russell an education expert with the National Wildlife Fund.

"It's a very tangible thing - if you turn over a rock then you see what lives under a rock you're going to remember they need dark spaces, and the learning you take sets the concrete of what you learn as an adult," says Russell.

For now though, preschools such as Audubon remain rare - Russell says there are only a handful of them across the country.

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