Outdoor Elementary School
Operating as usual
We’ve been learning about the digestion system this week and it all starts with your teeth. Today we hiked until we found a dogwood tree, and then chewed the twigs to clean our teeth the way Indigenous Americans did. It was a bit bitter, so some of the students chose to chew some wild mint afterwards. We walked back to our main area via a new, unexplored area which has now been dubbed ‘Hidden Creek’.
Today we enjoyed a plant that is often overlooked or even disliked - dandelions! The students started a fire with flint and steel, gathered and washed a bowl of dandelions, made a batter with eggs they collected from the barn and fried dandelions. This recipe is known as ‘appalachian style dandelions’. The history of dandelions is unclear, but it’s believed they came over from Europe with white settlers and spread across the country quickly. Indigenous Americans quickly learned to love this plant for both its medicinal properties and how versatile it was for eating.
We talked about loving the unloved things like dandelions, the rain, ants and wasps. Being fully outdoors allows us to really connect with nature and our surroundings. We get excited when it rains because that will make the dandelions grow. After the dandelions start to grow, we know we’ll see the bees and swallowtails. Soon we’ll hear the baby tree swallows and see the baby fawns. We’re so glad we aren’t missing any of it.
Lead teacher Isabelle is in training to become a certified master naturalist. Today, with the other master naturalists, she got to make moss terrariums with all the kids who attended the Earth Day event at the Blacksburg Price House Nature Center.
Moss is so important for our environment. Did you know there are 12,000 different species of moss and it grows on every continent? Moss also offsets more carbon emissions than trees. And while most animals don’t eat moss, reindeer will eat it because of a chemical in moss that makes their blood warmer.
To celebrate Earth Day, we were lucky enough to have Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center of Roanoke (the same place we took the baby squirrels to) visit us and bring some of their educational ambassadors with them. We got to see a red tailed hawk, a Virginia opppssum and a 3 legged box turtle up close and ask all sorts of questions. We learned a lot about these animals and other animals native to Virginia. We got learn about conservation and some best practices to do when we come across wildlife too. It was such an amazing day! Happy Earth Day.
Today we came across a very, very injured red-bellied woodpecker. We suspect she narrowly escaped prey and then the sudden and unexpected cold impacted her as well. She also had a broken wing and wasn’t able to fly at all. We were able to capture her in hopes of bringing her to the wildlife center for rehabilitation but unfortunately she passed quickly and before we were able to get her there. After she passed we were able to respectfully investigate and learn about her. We saw how long and sharp her tongue was and discussed her feeding habits, how big her wingspan was, looked at her talons and researched her breeding habits. We learned that she was a female and talked about what she was doing this time of year. Then we dug a grave, spoke some fond words about her and thanked her for letting us learn about her.
Today we hiked over to what the students call ‘the mud pit’ to observe tadpoles. We discussed the differences and similarities between frogs and toads beforehand and talked about what to look for. We caught and released various tadpoles at all different stages, and it was cool to see the difference in sizes and trying to guess if they were frogs or toads. We got to see all sorts of plant life and creatures like a luna moth, wild mint and water striders. And of course we had to get a little muddy too because that’s the best part.
Blue Ridge magazine named us as one of the 5 southern schools leading in outdoor education!
5 Southern Schools That Are Leading in Outdoor Education Here’s a look at schools in the Blue Ridge that are leading students into the wild with outdoor education.
Finding the wild onions yesterday inspired them to do some cooking today. They built their own fire and lit it themselves with flint and steel, collected and washed chicken and duck eggs from the barn, gathered and washed wild onions from the forest, collected fresh birch twigs and pine needles and made themselves a meal of scrambled eggs with onions and pine and birch tea.
Tasting some wild onion that they found
The students made and hung 8 bird houses to attract tree swallows. We want tree swallows so they eat the flies and mosquitos that bother the horses in the pasture. After they were ready to use, they had to go into the pastures and use some of their math skills to figure out where to hang them and they had to be aware of their cardinal directions to make sure each house faced east, as tree swallows can be picky about the direction and spacing of their homes. We learned all about tree swallows and we’re looking forward to monitoring them over time.
We’ve noticed so many changes in our space recently. There is so much life and excitement this time of year. Today we went to the pond and creek to make observations and to see what we could find. Today we found all sorts of creatures and a few of our students got to see their nature name creatures. They found and identified Eastern Two Lined Salamanders, Fowler’s toads, tadpoles, fish, Appalachian Brook Crayfish, mating geese and Blue Ridge Two Lined Salamanders. We also found an opossum skull with the whiskers still attached! We wrote our observations in our journals so we can see how these creatures and our space change throughout the year.
Giving children opportunities to have hands on experiences with nature is what’s going to instill a love and passion in them for the rest of their lives. Our world needs more people who care about it and these scientists and environmentalists are the next generation to do so.
We started learning how to start fires with flint and steel today. One of our biggest challenges was finding dry tinder for our ‘birds nest’ after our wet weekend so they spent awhile collecting leaves, dead grasses, birch bark and other other things and dried them by the fire while they practiced making sparks with the flint and steel. After awhile their tinder was dry enough so they were able to work on getting their tinder lit. We had a few successes and got some fires started!
Today a few students were in the woods playing when they saw a nest fall from a tree and heard crying. They immediately ran to get a teacher for help. We originally thought it was going to be birds, but soon realized it was actually a nest of 3 baby squirrels. Their nest somehow fell from a high tree, got caught on multiple branches and the babies ended up on the ground. We observed them for awhile and it became clear that mama squirrel wasn’t returning and 2 of the 3 squirrels were possibly injured. We knew with the cold and wild animals they wouldn’t make it through the night. We called Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center of Roanoke and they heard what we observed and encouraged us to bring them in. They’ll keep them for a few weeks as they heal and get bigger and then release them into the wild. We’ll be able to follow along with updates and see how they progress over time.
Our goal this month is fire building. They’ll learn the ins and outs of making a fire with matches and with flint and steel. They chop they’re own wood, collect sticks, build the fire, light the fire and tend to it throughout the day themselves. Today they even successfully started their fire in the rain with wet wood.
This month we celebrated and honored Black History Month by learning about and enjoying various black heroes. We started off by reading ‘Dreams’ by Langston Hughes and creating a dream collage. We learned about Charles Drew and his contributions to the medical world, read and discussed ‘Caged Bird’ by Maya Angelou and learned about Edmonia Lewis and her artististic impact. We also used her stamps to write and send letters to others.
Each student was assigned a person to learn about and teach others about. We had Mae Jamison, John Lewis, Maya Angelou, George Washington Carver and Louis Armstrong. They did various writing, reading and art projects about their people and then taught the other students about them as well.
We also celebrated Fredrick Douglass’s birthday and reveiwed what we already knew about Fredrick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation.
Our vocabulary words this month were ‘trailblazer’ ‘influence’ and ‘innovate’.
So many signs of spring coming! Not only have we noticed geese returning the the pond to nest, new mushrooms and a return of some insects, but we also found these lines on one of their forts. Their first thought was that a bear caused them. But upon further investigation they decided that the lines were too neat and small for bear claws, and bear scratches usually go up and down, not sideways. We went for a walk and observed that only the rhododendrons had these lines, and that the rhododendrons also were budding when most other tress were not. We knew from our photosynthesis lesson from the fall, that that meant the rhododendrons had begun the photosynthesis process and they made hypotheses that whatever caused these lines may have been going after the sweet glucose (sugar) that the rhododendrons are now making. This lead to a lesson on xylem - the tissue in trees that carry water and minerals, and phloem - the tissue in trees that carry sugar. We still didn’t know what caused these lines though so we did some research and settled on it probably being either European Hornets or Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers. We aren’t certain yet which it is, we will continue to observe the area until we know. We are seeing new lines pop up each day so hopefully soon with more careful observation we’ll be able too see first hand what is causing it.
Finding joy in every season. Part of being 100% outdoors all year round means returning to the same places over and over in various seasons. They’ve played in this creek when it was hot and sunny, when the leaves were falling, in the rain, and when it was snowy and icy. They’ve seen the skunk cabbage just as it was budding, and when it was so overgrown we could barely walk. They’ve found salamander eggs, and then grown salamanders a few months later. They’ve seen changes and similarities in every season and have loved each season for what it is.
One of our students said ‘you know, when I was inside at home I really didn’t want to get my gear on and go into the rain. But now that I’m in the rain, I actually love it and this is my favorite day ever.’
This week we started on the respiratory system. We made model lungs and discussed how lungs work, made hypotheses on what we thought the functions of the respiratory system are and found out if we were correct or incorrect, and talked about gas exchange. Its been great hearing them tie information they learned from the circulatory system into what we were learning about this week. Our hero of the week is Florence Seibert, who helped invent the first tuberculosis test.
We took advantage of a good snow day to make some yummy snow ice cream too!
We’ve also been celebrating Black History Month by learning about and enjoying different black artists. Today we read ‘Dreams’ by Langston Hughes and used his poem as part of our Imbolc celebration. Imbolc marks the halfway point between winter solstice and spring equinox, and signifies light, hopes, dreams and courage. We’re halfway to spring!
Fresh snow makes for easy animal tracking! We believe we found rabbit, bird, squirrel and deer today.
They use ropes and a hammock to create a safe body sledding area. This hill was way too steep to sled on so they figured out a way to make it safe and usable. They also used 3 of our new knots to create this! Not pictured was a hammock at the end to catch them in case they let go of the rope, and other ropes all up the side to help pull them back up the icy hill. This was totally child led and executed. It took them about two hours of failing and trying again before they got it how they wanted it.
This week we finished the circulatory system. We learned about what blood is and what the functions of blood are. They made hypotheses about what they thought the functions of blood were and then figured out if they were correct or incorrect. For math we discussed bar graphs and made a bar graph about our heart rates, both when we had rested and after we ran for awhile. We learned about William Harvey, who was the first person to accurately describe the circulatory system over 400 years ago.
Knot tying has been going really well! We’ve learned 4 knots so far and use them almost everyday for various reasons.
Photos from Little River Outdoor School's post
Today we talked about blubber, how it keeps marine animals warm and then made our own blubber gloves to really be able to see first hand how well it does keeping you warm. We used lard as our blubber and put both our blubber hand and our bare hand in the snow and then timed how long we could keep them in. After about 30 seconds our bare hand was too cold, but our blubber hand never got cold even after multiple minutes in the snow. We talked about how the capillaries in the blubber constrict which reduces blood flow which reduces the energy needed to heat the body. They were able to relate this information to our lesson about the circulatory system from last week.
We also made snow ice cream, which everyone enjoyed - even Juno!
We’ve started working towards our group goals and this month is knot tying. She mastered this square knot pretty quickly! We have ten knots they’ll each master before we set a new goal.
This week as been our coldest week but we’ve been staying warm with the proper clothing, a hot fire and tea. We started our anatomy unit with the circulatory system and have started to learn all about the heart, arteries, veins, blood and more. Today we listened to our heartbeat and figured out what our heart rate was and learned how to find our pulse. We also calculated how much blood we have based off of our weight. We learned the difference between red blood cells, white blood cells, plasma and platelets and what their jobs are.
We also introduced our new group book this week, The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind. This book is challenging to read because there are a lot of differences between our lives and the lives of the people in the book. It’s led to a lot of child led conversations like ‘how different would our life be if we didn’t have electricity?’ and ‘what would we do if we couldn’t go to a doctor when we needed?’
|Monday||9:30am - 3pm|
|Tuesday||9:30am - 3pm|
|Wednesday||9:30am - 3pm|
|Thursday||9:30am - 3pm|
Blue Mountain School is a contemplative progressive educational community located in Floyd, Virginia.
Floyd Montessori offers peace based education inspired by the work of Maria Montessori. We serve children ages 16 months - 6 years.
The vision for our School is to continue to provide excellent instruction to all students through continuing evaluation of the instructional plan.