, , , , ,

MSCS Students Exploring the Natural World

Brevard, NC | Kayla Leed

Backpacking trips, bird banding, paddling 28 miles on the French Broad River, learning primitive skills, and spending a night in a tent: these are some of the things Mountain Sun Community School students do throughout the school year. Within the first three months of school, MSCS students have spent a good portion of their time in our local public lands exploring the backcountry.

Each class gets outside every single day. Whether it is in the woods on our campus at Brevard Music Center, or a multi-day trip, Mountain Sun students have ample time outside of the classroom walls. The primary classes, Otters and Owls, have a seamless indoor-outdoor classroom allowing students to expand their work area into the outdoor spaces. These classes also take several field trips to the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education each year and engage in opportunities for outdoor education whenever possible.

The Acorns (1st-3rd grade) take their outdoor skills and curiosity beyond the classroom spaces by going on their first class campout in the first quarter of the school year. Twice a year, the Acorns spend two days and one night exploring a local forest and sleeping in tents. Parents are welcomed to join the children, help make dinner, read them a story, and sit around the fire before sending them off to sleep in their tents. On September 26th and 27th, the Acorns explored the Fawn Lake area of Dupont State Forest, followed by camping at Kuykendall Group Campground in Pisgah National Forest. The next day, the Acorns enjoyed a warm breakfast by the campfire and spent time independently reflecting on their experience in their writing journals. They will continue to explore the outdoors in the daily rhythms and look forward to their next multi-day adventure in the spring.

“The Acorn fall campout experience gives the children, teachers, and families the opportunity to create a shared memory,” said lead teacher, Brigid Fox, “We learn about being together and about how our friends spend time in an environment. We come with varied experiences, however, the results of our campout bring us all to the same spot.”

In the Monarch class (4th-6th grades), students are challenged to sharpen their outdoor skills. Their multi-day trips are a compilation of learning wildlife skills, such as bird banding and identification (which also served as a service-learning project!), exploring primitive tools and learning survival skills, sharpening hiking, backpacking, and camp craft skills and learning how to be a part of a team. In the first quarter of the school year, their field experiences included a day hike in Bracken Mountain Preserve, two days at Big Bald Banding Station, and four days at Buffalo Cove Outdoor Education Center. In the spring, the Monarchs will spend a week in the Cataloochee Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“Offering field experiences to children of this age gives them the opportunity to solidify what we’re learning in the classroom, as well as make hands-on connections and strengthen their relationship with the natural world,” said lead teacher, Becky Langerman, “It is essential that we allow children to develop a reverence for our earth so they learn respect for all living things.”

The eldest students, the Coyotes (7th-9th grades), explore the backcountry with the most responsibility. Their field experiences are led by students with faculty support and guidance. They use maps and compasses, decide on leadership roles, use their skills and knowledge of how to exist in the backcountry, and travel through the experiences with positive, open minds. The Coyotes embark on multi-day backpacking trips and paddling trips and often come back from their experiences eager to teach the younger students what they learned.

The Coyotes spent 7 days in the woods in the first quarter of the school year, including a multi-day backpacking trip on the Foothills Trail and a 3-day paddling trip on the French Broad River, thanks to the help of Headwaters Outfitters in Rosman.

“The natural world is the greatest school, and rivers are among its wisest teachers. Along our route we talked about hydrology, geology, topography, agriculture, outdoor skills, social skills, and conflict resolution — and the best part is that, on the water, these topics came up naturally. Canoeing, in particular, provided opportunities for teamwork, problem-solving, and clear communication. At camp, the Coyotes were challenged to exercise leadership skills, responsibility, and volunteerism,” said Daniel Sprinkle, Lead Teacher.

At Mountain Sun, children are encouraged to be children and to actively and freely explore the natural world. The school believes a connection to the natural world cultivates learning from within, fosters the whole child’s development, and reinforces care for self and others. This connection is facilitated by practicing environmental responsibility in all aspects of school life, creating hands-on learning opportunities within the natural world, and providing ample unstructured physical exercise and exploration in the outdoors.

As a way to make outdoor play and education more accessible, Mountain Sun Community School launched the Natural Play Project. The Natural Play Project (NPP) is a Transylvania County-based initiative that provides free nature-based educational programming and access to outdoor play spaces for young children and their families. Responding to the needs of Transylvania County that were identified in the 2015 “State of the Young Child” report, the NPP offers natural play opportunities in the community as part of the Get Set Transylvania early childhood initiative.

Mountain Sun Community School is an independent, nonprofit school serving Preschool through Middle School and utilizes nature-based Montessori and other methods to provide a unique, inspired education for each child. Mountain Sun Community School is currently enrolling students for the 2019-20 Academic Year. MSCS is a United Way of Transylvania County community partner. For more information, please visit www.mountainsunschool.org or call 828.885.2555.