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Outdoor Education Program

Summary of Chesterfield School’s Outdoor Education Program

Over the past few years, Chesterfield School has developed a strong outdoor education program, which continues to grow. 
In March 2017, Chesterfield residents voted at Town Meeting to approve the purchase of a 22-acre lot adjacent to the school, expanding the school’s campus. The purchase was finalized in October 2017.  The land includes overgrown field- an increasingly rare habitat in New Hampshire, young pine forest, hardwood forests, forested wetlands, and a small stream, and is home to deer, turkey, bobcat, coyote, hawk, porcupine, possum, fox and myriad other wildlife.
In the spring of 2018, the sixth grade class completed a GIS project in which they mapped the land and identified the best locations for outdoor classrooms.  Subsequently, trails and two outdoor classrooms with benches were then established to allow classes to use the space.  Later two additional stump circles were added. In the summer of 2020, with funds from the Chesterfield Public School Foundation, a timber-frame pavilion was built in one of the outdoor classrooms to facilitate outdoor learning in inclement weather.
An enthusiastic and active Outdoor Education Committee, composed of staff from grades K-8, parents, and representatives from the administration, town conservation commission and school board has helped facilitate the increased use of the space by classes, organize volunteer days, secure funding for projects, assist with visioning, and pursue professional development. Over the past 5 years, the school’s outdoor education program has blossomed, with administrative support and organic enthusiasm from the bottom up- from teachers inspiring fellow teachers.  All classes K-5 now have at least one scheduled class period in the outdoor classrooms each week. Teachers use the space for a variety of activities, from community building to academic lessons in all subject areas.
In addition, middle school classes use the space in ways that connect to the curriculum, including building a wigwam during Native American studies unit, conducting biodiversity surveys in science, and training on the trails for the annual Turkey Trot during health class.
The new outdoor classroom spaces enrich an existing and continuing partnership with the Harris Center for Conservation Education, providing a diversity of habitats and learning spaces for programming at all grade levels.
In January 2019, Chesterfield School received a Schoolyard Habitat Grant which funded game cameras for kindergarten, a bird box building project for third graders, and a native shrub planting project for fifth graders.  
In 2019 and 2020, Antioch New England University spearheaded the production of a 20-minute documentary called Turning School Inside Out which chronicled the school’s transition to outdoor learning.
In 2022, Chesterfield School hosted Antioch University’s annual Inside Outside conference, which gathers educators from across New England to learn and share about nature and place-based elementary education.
With their weekly visits, year after year, students have come to know this patch of land intimately and look forward to their frequent adventures in the outdoor classrooms.
Staff hope that these experiences will help students develop a caring relationship with the land and natural world.