Second Grade students experiencing free play in the forest during their field trip to Geneva Glen Camp

Looking Back on Lower School’s Second Annual Outdoor October

Outdoor October returned to the Lower School for its second year as an extension of Colorado Academy’s Experiential Education program. From studying rocks and minerals to understanding the forest’s lifecycle to playing interactive games about the food chain or gaining survival skills, Lower School students learn by doing with hands-on activities on our stunning, autumn-colored campus and beyond. 

This year, Outdoor October was kicked off by the Fall Colors Hike led by Service Learning Coordinator Lisa Dean and Fourth Grade teacher Chris Hertig into Golden Gate Canyon State Park, where students had the chance to walk through the changing colors and use their senses to take in the landscape around them. This is an event that Dean and Hertig have been running for years, and, each time, they are heart-warmed by the willingness of Fourth and Fifth Graders to lean into mindfulness and cultivate joy in an unstructured environment. 

Chris Hertig and Lower School students stopping on the trail for a break during the Fall Colors Hike

“It is a wonderful day trip that is quintessential Colorado,” says Hertig. This event highlights the invaluable nature of time spent in the outdoors, and students take in the changing colors in a world-famous setting while on the trail.

Students hiking in Golden Gate Canyon State Park
A rock report from a Third Grader during the “My Pet Rock” geology activity

Also as part of Outdoor October, supplementary school-day programs are offered to Lower School teachers who sign their students up for a lesson in geology, ecology, or survival skills. Students are encouraged to be curious by diving into natural sciences, and they put on their creative hats to write their own stories about local flora and fauna. These lessons are assisted by Upper School Experiential Education Leadership Students (EELS), and passion for the outdoors transcends divisions. 

“I love getting to touch the rocks,” said Adyda Ewing, a Third Grader in Stephanie Stone’s class. “I see colors like this in books, but now I get to hold my own!” Ali Elkins’ Third Graders signed up for an ecology lesson and learned about the importance of trees for our planet and the difference between coniferous and deciduous trees; they even sang a song about the life cycle of the forest to the tune of the Beatles’ song “Here Comes the Sun.”

There is an incredible opportunity on our campus to spend time outside utilizing nature as a classroom and place for discovery. By bringing the natural sciences in the form of mini-lessons to the Lower School, Outdoor October is the perfect way to take in the fresh air and get outside.

Upper School EEL student Abby Cohen teaches Jessica Ohly’s Fifth Grade class about the ’10 Essentials,’ part of their survival skills class for Outdoor October.

In addition to weekend hikes and school-day mini-lessons, Outdoor October brought Second Grade to the local Geneva Glen Camp in the foothills for a whole day of experiential learning. This nearby location gave them the chance to spend the whole day in nature, soaking up the sun and bonding in homeroom groups. Students moved through rotations that focused on navigation, Rocky Mountain flora and fauna, and loose parts free-play with natural materials. 

Second Graders work together to build a creative fort out of natural materials during their field trip to Geneva Glen Camp.

“I feel like this is exactly what these kids need,” Second Grade teacher Lizzie Rockmore said during the loose-parts segment. “They need to be away from structure sometimes, and the forest is the perfect place.”

By the end of the day, the students had had time to explore free play in the woods, get a lesson on navigation and basic compass skills, and complete a nature scavenger hunt in addition to trying out “nature bathing,” where they focused on their senses in the quiet environment.

The Second Graders also watched a presentation from Nature’s Educators, where they got to see and learn first-hand about birds of prey including a barn owl, a Swainson’s hawk, a peregrine falcon, and a turkey vulture. The students oohed and aahed at the magnificent birds and watched as raptors stretched and flapped their wings. Nature’s Educators’ goal in their outreach programs is to bring the birds out to communities to inspire love and admiration for these stunning creatures. They definitely accomplished their goal!

Now, as the weather has become colder, we look forward to snow sports events! Thank you to each class who participated in this year’s Outdoor October, and a huge shoutout to the EELS who helped out!