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Superintendent's News

Posted: September 23, 2022

Outdoor Learning: A Message from Supt. Elder

In his weekly message to employees, APS Superintendent Scott Elder writes about the benefits of outdoor learning.

Need a change of scenery? Take the kids outside. Turns out Mother Nature is quite the co-teacher, and the outdoors makes an excellent classroom.

Just ask the Albuquerque Public Schools Outdoor Learning Team, whose vision states: "APS is a place in which school campuses extend beyond the four walls of the building, where the outdoors is valued and utilized as an educational resource, and where the community and the natural environment are integral components of children's education."

Did you know we have an Outdoor Learning Team? If not, now would be a good time to learn more about the resources and support they provide since next week is Outdoor Learning Week.

The APS Outdoor Learning Team cites research showing that outdoor learning:

  • builds upon students' academic knowledge
  • reduces stress and anxiety levels
  • lowers heart rate
  • increases physical fitness activity
  • helps students develop a positive sense of self and self-discipline and
  • provides a supportive, collaborative, calmer, and quieter learning environment.

Even in the more urban parts of our school district, students can reconnect to their natural world, gaining respect for their environment, community, and culture, leading to changes in personal and educational behavior. The students with the most to gain are often those with the least access to the outdoors and natural settings.

Outdoor learning is more than school gardens, though 90+ APS schools now have them. And you don't need infrastructure to create outdoor classrooms, though the state Legislature appropriated funding for two dozen new outdoor classrooms with a hundred more requests for such things as shade structures and benches.

All our schools have outdoor spaces within a short walk of most classrooms that can be used for learning.

Generally, we connect outdoor learning to science or physical activity, which makes sense. But it can be so much more. Whatever students do inside a classroom can be done outdoors, often with greater benefit. For example, geometry students can measure building angles. Art students can use natural light to shadow and shade. Language arts students can write about observations in nature. With 300 sunny days a year in Albuquerque, the possibilities are endless.

In addition, APS offers several outdoor learning opportunities for students, including:

  • All 5th graders participate in an ecology field program at the APS Sandia Mountain Natural History Center in partnership with the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.
  • All 4th graders participate in RIO (the Rio is Ours) program provided by the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority.
  • And beginning this year, all 3rd graders will have the opportunity to participate in the Community, Place, and Habitat program at the Los Padillas Wildlife Sanctuary.
  • The APS Education Foundation also supports outdoor learning initiatives through its grants.

The Outdoor Learning Team can provide resources, lesson plans, training, school garden support, and help with site-based outdoor learning plans. Submit your request here: Outdoor Learning Support Request, and enjoy a happy, sunny Outdoor Learning Week.

In recognition of Outdoor Learning Week, Sept. 26-Oct. 1, here's a short video slideshow featuring some outdoor learning activities around APS.