At the Terra Schools, our guiding principle is to nurture the infinite capabilities of young children, fostering in them a love of learning and a deep understanding of the world around them. One of the primary ways in which we do this is through our unique Earth Education program, which brings students together outdoors at least one day each week.
On these excursions, students engage in activities such as building shelters, identifying plants, testing water samples, and other projects that bolster their confidence and develop in them a sense of awe and wonder.
Studies show that time spent in nature has multiple cognitive benefits, including increased focus and concentration, a happier mood, and improved memory and attentional control - all things that are essential to academic success. However, the benefits reach far beyond a child’s ability to achieve success in school: we also see them experiencing visceral joy in their day to day lives.
To give you a greater sense of the impact our Earth Education program has on our students, we interviewed one of our exceptional earth educators, Iris Locke:
What kinds of growth do you see taking place for your students when they learn outside?
Iris: I see incredible growth in students' confidence while outdoors. Though there are many things to be aware of outside, we all feel much freer to explore and exist in the way that we want to. Children are free to climb, run, jump and bound however they please. They understand their limits, and begin to steadily push past them. One student this year has gone from being terrified to step up a rock on her own, to climbing trees and jumping off of logs with pure joy and pride. As we encourage them to try difficult things, the ideas that plague most adults – such as, "I can't do that," or "I'm not strong enough," – never have a chance to form for them.
What does a typical Earth Ed day look like?
Iris: It's hard to describe a typical Earth Ed day, after all, we never know what we're going to run into while out and about. I'd say the most common factor in all of our outdoor days is curiosity and excitement toward everything going on around us – whether that's the flowers blooming by the trail, the scat left behind by a traveling coyote, or the falcon catching its prey in the early morning. We are there to observe, learn, and exist in tandem with the natural world.
What’s a favorite moment or activity from one of your excursions?
Iris: My favorite moments from any outdoor day are the ones that are totally unplanned, like when a group of students notices a bird and suddenly goes silent, gesturing to each other to take notice. They learn to notice how their presence affects the world around them, and are quick to go into silent, inquisitive observation. One of my favorite moments happened at Lake Lagunitas on a redwood which had fallen into the water. The trunk of the tree was large and easy to walk onto out over the water, and several turtles were sunbathing on its branches. We spent over half an hour quietly inching closer and closer to the turtles, watching them lay in the heat, and noticing when they got scared and began to leave. We sat still long enough for them to come back one by one, and even got to see them swim directly beneath us!
Thank you so much, Iris, for your energy and insights!