‘They need an outdoor school’: Ivoryton students turn to nature to learn science, reading & math

Connecticut Families

IVORYTON – “I was trying to make a picnic table here,” says 9-year-old Everett Collins, gesturing towards his vision, a building of sticks, inspired by a story he wrote. “This is the house and this stands for Walmart because that’s in my story, my fairy tale.”

This isn’t just playing in the woods. It’s a lesson at the Steward Outdoor School, a learning environment opened during the pandemic.

“We just said, ‘The community needs something, they need an outdoor school,’ so, we opened our school and here we are now,” explains Jen Malaguti, who wears all hats, as founder, director, and lead teacher, at the school located in a nature center she knows well. “I’m a Bushy Hill kid.”

Her eight students – ranging from kindergarten through 6th grade – spend the majority of their time outside, learning in an organic, inquiry-based way.

“We still do our basic math facts because that’s important but instead of doing it up there on paper, we’re down here on the sand, doing it down here,” explains Malaguti, referencing a classroom where the children when they’re inside.

“When I was at my old school, we always had to do the same thing, every day,” says 8-year-old Emma Velsor.

But, here, in nature, there are surprises, like a little frog, under every rock.

In another wooded area, the students have built a community. “We named it which was really cool – we named it Mossville,” says Emma.

“We all have businesses and we’ve all built shelters,” says Everett.

“I’m a lawyer and a town clerk,” adds Emma.

Dylan, one of the youngest students, is a farmer in this community, focused on food. “Tomatoes, kale, watermelon, peas,” he says.

Malaguti says it’s a way to teach financial literacy: “Every day, they balance their ledger to make sure they know how much money they have.”

A new approach…steeped in simplicity…with a mission geared towards caring…for each other and the world around us.

“Just a love of learning and other people and just how do we all connect and work together to leave this place a better place than when we first arrived,” says Malaguti.

Next up: the kids will be designing windmills, simultaneously studying math, science and weather.

Click here to learn about tuition at the Steward Outdoor School.


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