Exploration of the outdoors and helping students understand and appreciate the natural world are essential components of the Lower School curriculum. Our vast, biodiverse 600 acre campus provides abundant areas for children to learn — from the frog pond, to the lake, to the arboretum, to the mini farm (with chickens!) near the Lower School playground. Outdoor experiences are woven into all grades and many subject areas. Just a few examples include:
The Farm + Forest Program is an outdoor, place-based science program at Westtown for students in pre-k, kindergarten, and 1st grade. The program is designed to help students develop a connection to, and relationship with, the natural world. This is accomplished through hands-on experiential education and the development of careful observation skills and increased sensory awareness. Our young naturalists are invited to explore, discover, question, and to go off the trail and into the creeks! Through these direct experiences of nature, students cultivate curiosity, connection, and a desire to know more. The combination of direct experience, strong observational skills, genuine curiosity, and problem-solving serve as the foundation for future scientific discovery.
This program continues throughout the year — rain or snow or shine! — and a variety of topics are covered each season. Some examples:
- The fall season includes lessons on tree identification, tree life cycles, and their habitat; the study of moss, lichen, and fungus; deer tracking; Three Sisters garden planting; and composting, to name just a few.
- In the winter, students learn about animal survival tactics in winter; maple sugaring; winter gardening in the high house and tunnel; and animal track identification.
- When spring arrives, the lessons shift to studying the life cycles of frogs, insects, and dandelions; pollinators; planting, harvesting, and tasting a spring garden; and water cycles, vernal pools, and water critters, among other topics.
The intermediate science curriculum takes advantage of the best times of the year to go outside. As students enter school in August and September, many of the introductory units are outside. The majority of classroom units are completed in winter when the weather is prohibitive. Then, as spring sets in, science classes move outside once again.
In science, students explore all corners of our campus: the farm, the pond, the woods, and the lake. Our goal is to utilize the 600 acres to its fullest as we explore the wonders of nature and the environment. In the spring, 2nd through 5th grades all participate in a Watershed Unit where focus is on the environment here on campus. Each grade level has a different focus — from plants to animals to how and where the water on campus moves and goes. This unit helps students to connect with our community, our local environment, and gets the kids outside as much as possible when the weather is at its best.
The 5th grade curriculum includes a multi-day camping trip to Echo Hill, an ecological camp in Maryland, which is tied to their literature study of Hatchet by Gary Paulse. Echo Hill emphasizes living safely and comfortably in the outdoors, lifestyle habits conducive to sustainability, cooperative decision making, and individual self-reliance.
4th and 5th graders enjoy learning canoe skills on Westtown’s lake, and students in all grades take campus walks, explore in the Arboretum, and have unstructured play time in nature.
In Spanish classes, scavenger hunts around campus help students to learn nature and animal vocabulary. They also play outdoor games from Spanish-speaking countries around the world.
Our visual art teachers believe that art can be made anywhere and materials are not limited by what is found in the art studio. So, they take the art studio outdoors where students draw and paint from nature, journal, and observe how the elements of art — line, color, texture, space, form, value, and shape – occur in the real world around us. Students collect natural materials to use in art projects in the studio, including texture rubbings of things found outside.