‘Nature is the master teacher’: See North Haven’s Slate School, where outdoor learning is the norm

Connecticut Families

NORTH HAVEN – “At Slate School, we believe that nature is the master teacher,” said Julie Mountcastle, head of school. While outdoor learning has grown in the pandemic, it’s the norm in this bucolic setting.

About four hours of learning each day takes place in outdoor spaces, including “dry meadow, stream bed, piney woods.”

Kids play music, hear stories and do math lessons in this unique environment.

“We love the side-by-side learning. We’re all doing projects all the time,” said Mountcastle, explaining that all topics are integrated.

The kids are learning science in the garden, and also math by digging up potatoes that were planted last spring. They divided the garden bed based on the number of students in each classroom.

“So, we were working with fractions, using fraction tiles and thinking about those numbers,” said environmentalist Grace Kenney, noting that a unit on a subject like bugs is comprehensive. “They’re thinking about shape and pattern they’re thinking about ecosystems, they’re reading stories connected to insects.”

“I’m making a bedroom, here is a carpet, here is a bed,” said 7-year-old Lily as she pointed down to a creation she made on the ground with sticks and acorns. She was assigned to create something that represents home – anything from a room to a galaxy.

“I like to draw a lot. I also really like reading,” she said.

The aim is to find what each child is uniquely gifted at. Private donors help to make this school an option for all kids.

“We never want finances to be a barrier,” explained Mountcastle. “Don’t choose children based on if they can pay, and once they’re committed we say, ‘What can you pay and how can we help?'”

With a love of the land and individuality, those at Slate School hope the mission grows and inspires.

“We know if someone loves learning then there’s no problem that’s a problem. It’s only an opportunity to find a better solution,” said Mountcastle.

The school is now serving 42 students in kindergarten through 4th grade. There are plans to add 5th and 6th grades in the coming years.

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