Splashing in puddles. The smell of earthworms. The squishy feel of mud in your toes. And remember your favorite yellow slicker? Older generations have fond childhood memories of playing outdoors for hours. Remember how you never wanted to go back inside?

In general, kids today spend half as much time outdoors as their parents did. If they do get outside during recess at school, it’s often on a constructed playground where they have no real contact with nature. If learning from home, as so many families now find themselves doing due to COVID-19, outdoor play may be limited to the immediate area around the house and the driveway. Well-meaning parents, who protect their children from bugs, dirt and sun exposure, end up denying their children the benefits inherent in engaging with the outdoors.  

A daily dose of nature

You can’t blame parents for being a little over-protective. But ironically, an indoor lifestyle may be the biggest danger of all. Sedentary habits contribute to obesity, depression and anxiety in children. Screen time on the television, internet and smartphones are believed to exacerbate Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The trend is so widespread, there is a new term for it: NDD – Nature Deficit Disorder. Studies show that outdoorsy kids are more fit and do better academically than their indoor counterparts. A daily walk in wooded areas lowers blood pressure and levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. And, did you know that playing in mud and dirt actually boosts the body’s immunity from colds and other childhood viruses?

Where learning is an adventure  

Many parents and schools are finding safe, commonsense ways to bring nature into children’s lives. At Columbus Academy, outdoor learning plays a major role in students’ health, well-being and academic success. Students of all grade levels make frequent use of Academy’s 231-acre wooded campus. A favorite activity for PreK students is Forest Fridays. Once a week, rain or shine, little ones venture out on wooded paths and trails. They learn how to safely cross a stream or build a log dam. They study the physics of a stone splashing in a pond, and they learn how to work together in an environment that’s different from their regular routine. For them, you could say that being outdoors is, well, second nature.

Being outdoors isn’t just about play. At every age, it enhances our academics. We do activities that make curricular connections with math, biology, physics and reading. Kids come home excited about what they’ve learned outdoors, and parents love that they are learning, exploring and investigating. We also include parents in outdoor activities with family trail walks, mud runs and campouts.”

~ Mark Hansen, Head of the Lower School

Making natural connections

Academy’s wooded acres provide children with a multisensory “classroom” where they can soak up the smells, sounds, colors and textures of the forest. This builds nerve connections in the brain that are essential for brain development. Observing a caterpillar or ladybug teaches kids the power of observation. It also fosters respect for living things, increasing empathy and awareness of the world around them. A fun surprise throughout the trails? Children stumble on words shaped from acorns and rocks. This reminds them that reading can happen everywhere.

A recent Zoom@Noon webcast focused on outdoor learning at Columbus Academy. Guest hosts Heather Downey (Upper School science teacher) and Grace Gordon (Explorers Program teacher) highlight ways that our 231-acre campus benefits each student’s experience.

On a rainy day in late October, lower-schoolers at Columbus Academy took to the outdoors. It gave them a chance to play in puddles, conduct soil experiments, discuss if a fire to stay warm could be created with such wet wood, and find creatures such as worms, slugs, stick bugs and even a praying mantis. See our gallery of images below for a glimpse of the many ways nature stimulates students’ imaginations and keeps them healthy. Would you like to see our campus? Follow the link on this page to contact our Admissions team.

Want to know more about outdoor learning at Academy?

Schedule a personal tour of campus!

If you’d like to schedule a tour, please email admissions@columbusacademy.org or call the Admissions Office at 614-509-2220 and leave a voicemail. You can also click here to submit an inquiry form.

We look forward to sharing the Academy Experience with you!