How Outdoor Classrooms Foster Learning at Aspen Academy

  • Academics
Bailey Taber

When Aspen Academy’s reopening guidelines were shared, there was a new need to leverage more outdoor learning spaces for classrooms. Faculty members were encouraged to incorporate the curriculum in new ways outside of the classroom. Jessica Cho (5th & 6th Grade Instructor, Earth & Physical Science, Student Leadership Coach, Science Department Chair) and Annette Calhoun (Pre-Kindergarten Instructor & Leadership Coach) have shared their thoughts on leveraging outdoor spaces for the benefits of learning.

students learning about water and streams outside

Ms. Cho believes that some teaching lessons are implemented better outdoors as opposed to inside of the classroom. Her favorite outdoor lesson: drawing dinosaurs to scale. Students use math ratios and graph paper to calculate the size on paper, then model the real size with chalk on the pavement. They get to experience the actual size of various dinosaurs in comparison to their own body size. Ms. Cho shared, “If we had learned about dinosaurs indoors, the students wouldn’t have walked away with the same sense of awe and wonder at a creature so large and interesting!”. She plans to use these outdoor spaces long into the future with her students; allowing students to move around, engage with the natural world and observe the things we're learning about in the outdoors. Ms. Cho classifies outdoor learning as invaluable.

Ms. Calhoun was pleasantly surprised at the transition to outdoor learning for the youngest learners at Aspen Academy. While she was initially cautious, her feelings for using an outside classroom have changed over the course of the year. “I believe outdoor learning helps develop adaptability, as well as resilience in adverse circumstances. Learning outdoors has shown students that learning can happen anywhere, not just inside with a notebook and pencil,” Ms. Calhoun explains. She and her class were outside discussing the signs of winter when a bird flew near them. One of her students asked “How does that bird fly when it snows?”, Mrs. Calhoun replied, “The bird has wings that are waterproof.” Of course the next question was, “What is waterproof?”. What started as a lesson of winter ended with students taking feathers and dipping them into water to understand the anatomy of birds. The children were amazed to see the water roll off the feathers, learned new vocabulary, and gained the confidence of asking questions! Ms. Calhoun hopes that the option for outdoor learning will remain an option at Aspen, long after the necessitated use during the global pandemic.


Aspen Academy’s campus includes numerous outdoor learning spaces. For more on the campus, click here.

About the Author

Annette Calhoun, Pre-K Instructor

Annette has been teaching Early Childhood Education for 25 years. Annette attended the University of Southern Mississippi where she majored in Special Education and Early Childhood Education. She is excited to be part of the Aspen team which offers her the ability to teach to the whole child and foster the creativity in each student. Annette enjoys running, hiking and spending time with her husband, daughters and her dog, Zoro.