Blog : Students Learn Through Nature Based Education at Acorn School

By Katelyn | Oct 19, 2015 | in

With students and parents settled into their new school routines, some seacoast area children are taking an environmental approach to another year of learning. The pre-K and kindergarteners at Acorn School in Stratham learn to connect with the environment at an early age. Teachers and administrators take advantage of the school’s natural surroundings to create a curriculum and philosophy that instills a sense of environmental appreciation in their students.

Students at this unique school are exposed to environment through nature-based learning, much of which is done through outdoor education focused on composting, gardening, or learning about native species. Aside from the environment, the curriculum also offers classes in theater, music, the arts, and world cultures.

“One of our major goals is to instill a love for learning across the board,” said Sue Bendroth, Executive Director at the Acorn School since 1987. “Yes, we want them to learn their numbers or letters, but that’s not as important as developing a passion for learning and an ability to communicate with one another. They have a long school career ahead of them.”

To continue to offer a diverse education to local students, the non-profit Acorn School relies on fundraising and donations to bridge the gap between student tuition and everyday operating expenses. Each fall, they host a fundraiser, which serves as one of the main contributions to the Acorn School Endowment Fund. This year, the fall fundraiser will be held at Abenaqui Country Club in Rye, on Saturday, November 7, from 6 - 10 p.m.

The public is encouraged to attend and will enjoy an evening of hors d’oeuvres, a cash bar, raffle prizes, and live and silent auctions, with all proceeds going to the school. This fundraiser, as well as others throughout the year, will support capital improvements, overhead costs, and the Becky Shepard scholarship fund.

Parents, students, and teachers kicked off the beginning of the school year with Acorn’s annual Work and Play afternoon where everyone pitches in and helps prepare for the start of another school year. As the preschoolers and kindergarteners acclimated with their surroundings they began new projects and classes. The Mighty Oaks, the kindergarten class at Acorn School, recently studied Vincent Van Gogh and took their first field trip to Coppal House Farm in Lee, to paint sunflowers like Van Gogh. The students also celebrated International Day of Peace with activities such as yoga, meditation, and making peace flags.

“It’s unbelievable how the school uses nature and the outdoor space that they have,” said Tonia Hutt, president of Acorn’s Board of Directors, and the parent of a former Acorn student. “The students will observe butterflies, for example, and then incorporate what they learned outside on the inside by singing, dancing, reading and learning about the life cycle of butterflies, or whatever it is they saw. They have a deep appreciation and respect for nature. The children think this is so much fun learning and watching caterpillars morph into beautiful butterflies, but it’s actually an educational curriculum.”

The older students at the school have the opportunity to participate in an after school program called Club Acorn, where they focus on the community by giving back to the surrounding area, as well as organizations on a larger scale. The students participated in the Portsmouth Fairy House Tours in September and often maintain nature trails, visit retirement homes, and bring in food for 68 Hours of Hunger.

Keeping in line with their environmental initiatives, Acorn School partnered with Mr. Fox, a local composting company, last spring thanks to a scholarship from an anonymous donor. While the school has always used a small compost system on site, this has allowed them to compost on a larger scale. Families collect compost at home and bring it to the school, and students continue the cycle by composting while at school during the day.

“Becoming part of the Mr. Fox family allows not only the school to compost most of our waste and prevent the addition to landfills, but it also allows the families of Acorn School to compost as well,” explained Acorn School Board Member, Crystal Hardy. “Together as a community we have been able to teach and educate our children on the importance of composting and decreasing our environmental footprint.”

Following the annual Fall Fundraiser, Acorn School will host their fall open house on Saturday, November 14, from 9:00 - 11:00 a.m. This open house will introduce prospective students and their families to the Acorn curriculum and classrooms, and the benefits of a unique early education.

Click here for more information about the Acorn School.