The Benefits of Outdoor Education

I had the ultimate privilege of accompanying the fifth-grade boys on their trip to Echo Hill this past week. Tuesday morning, as the bus pulled onto the Echo Hill ballfield, I could sense the nervous excitement of the class. After many years of fifth-grade trips to this beautiful bay spot, the joy of seeing boys dragging bags and backpacks towards the tents in anticipation of an awesome adventure never gets old! The boys settled in quickly and soon seemed just as at home passing around family-style chicken and rice in the “Whip” as they do passing the water pitcher in the school lunchroom. Even the pickiest eater seems to enjoy the food at Echo Hill. It is plentiful, varied, and delicious. My favorite activities to watch are the Adventure I classes. I am grateful that they are early in the trip, as I leave mid-week to trade places with Dr. Webster. During these classes, skilled counselors lead the boys through a variety of team building exercises that strengthen communication skills and encourage cooperation. Some groups can find activities particularly challenging and go through a learning process as they move from Adventure I to Adventure II. There is value in revisiting this type of team challenge back at school. These experiences truly are character building and model much of our Gilman learning goals for the boys- using creative and critical thinking to problem solve. The week at Echo Hill is the perfect entry ticket into the fifth-grade experience. Over the course of this year, the boys will learn to accept growing responsibility for themselves, others, and the world they live in.

At the other end of the school community, some of our newest Gilman boys, Prep-One, are experiencing the woods on campus in new and challenging ways. Prep-One teachers are building time in the outdoors into the learning experience. At least once a cycle, the boys have the opportunity to work together and learn with the woods as their classroom. Problem-solving and critical thinking challenges are easy to find in the woods, especially when you are six or seven. Enjoy the pictures below of our young adventurers learning about each other in our natural classroom spaces. Also pictured below is a red tail hawk that a third-grade science class stumbled upon in the outdoor classroom the other week. This young bird may have fallen from its nest, as it was weak and hungry. Mrs. Rizzuto called the Phonix Bird Sanctuary and they are now nursing it back to health. She is hopeful that Gilman students may be able to see its release into the wild.

Ellen Rizzuto and Barry James, our lower school science teachers, worked together last year to redevelop our school garden. Originally conceived by Mrs. Olgierson and enjoyed by many boys over the years, the garden had fallen into disrepair. It has taken on a new life and captivated the interest of a new group of Gilman boys! Harvests this fall include thousands of sunflower seeds, vegetables, and a large variety of herbs. See the pictures below of some of the items ready for use. The garden promises to provide a wide variety of learning experiences year round!

Our Greenhounds club, led by Mrs. Eppler and Mr. Layman, provides outdoor education for interested boys as a morning club. In past years, boys have built bird feeders, planted flowers, walked on nature hikes at RPCS, and watched over the butterfly garden in front of Lower School. The butterfly garden has not only attracted butterflies but provided a sanctuary for young caterpillars to form a cocoon. Pictured below is a new to the world Monarch butterfly. The boys on butterfly watch were thrilled!

Our recently hatched Monarch butterfly.

Sometimes outdoor education takes the form of play. Gilman Lower School went to two recesses last year because we believe the freedom to play with friends in the outdoors is a valuable learning experience. Our boys think of recess as a break from school, however, teachers know that many character traits we value are best learned through free play. I witness cooperation, good and not-so-good communication, problem-solving, perseverance, and leadership skills/traits on a daily basis.



It is my wish that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy some outdoor education of their own- through work or play- during the beautiful fall season ahead!


I hope that my communication with you each week encourages “talking points” to inspire conversation with your son or sons. Here are some “talking points” based on recent school events.



  • If you are in Kindergarten- Did you enjoy the singing group at the assembly last week- SnowDay?
  • If you are in Prep-One- Did you enjoy the dance party this week at the SnowDay assembly? What are you learning about butterflies?
  • If you are in First Grade- What is a “beatbox” and did you enjoy the classroom dance parties? What are some “attributes” in math? Are you enjoying the Lego wall?
  • If you are in Second Grade- What are some problem-solving strategies you discussed in math class? What are some things you will be learning about in math this year?
  • If you are in Third Grade- Why were some of your classmates wearing a broccoli around their neck this week?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- Why is fantasy football such a big thing in fourth grade? Not everyone is into football- what are you passionate about in the same way?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What memorable moments did you take away from your experience at Echo Hill?

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