Association of Washington School Principals
Volume 3 – 2020-21
All Kids Deserve a Week in the Woods
Outdoor Education in Washington State
Greg Barker
WSPEF Director
Evaluation Criteria: Creating a Culture, Engaging Families and Communities, Closing the Gap
WSPEF and Outdoor School for All believes that every Washington child should have the opportunity to attend Outdoor School. We have just begun this journey, as this year, the state has allocated funds to help offset costs incurred by schools sending fifth- and sixth-graders to camp. We plan to expand the program in the coming year, as we work towards more permanent funding in the next budget cycle.
WHAT IS OUTDOOR SCHOOL? Outdoor School is typically a multi-day, hands-on, residential science education camp for students in fifth- or sixth-grade. Students share cabins, sing songs and eat together, while studying the flora, fauna and natural systems found there. Many programs utilize high school students as volunteer junior counselors. Under professional guidance, these older students help teach science through a multidisciplinary lens and serve as role models to younger students. Along with mastering subject areas, high school students who volunteer as junior counselors are challenged to inspire and lead, in addition to being exposed to future careers in education, natural resources, and the sciences.
A SHORT HISTORY OF OUTDOOR SCHOOL IN WASHINGTON Whether called outdoor schools or environmental education centers, Washington state has a long history of providing essential outdoor education experiences for students. One of the state's first programs began way back in the 1930s. Since that time, more than twenty organizations have formed, including two boat-based programs, that now provide multi- day programs for thousands of kids each year. Yet, only about 10 percent of Washington students benefit from this incredible opportunity. We believe all Washington students deserve a week in the woods!
Outdoor education is effective because it builds on children’s natural curiosity about the world, leading them into the delightful pursuit of ‘why?’
Next Generation Rising to Today’s Challenges Creating our region’s next generation of leaders means we must instill in our youth the skills, connections, and perspectives they will need to come together and address the very real threats of climate change, overconsumption of resources, and degradation of our planet. We know that at outdoor school, children gain critical thinking skills that will help them become successful adults, who are able to make smart decisions as community members, parents, workers, and leaders. We see how learning outdoors inspires students and gives them a sense of agency and optimism.

Nature is the Best Classroom: The Impact of Outdoor Education
Outdoor education is effective because it builds on children’s natural curiosity about the world, leading them into the delightful pursuit of “why?” Learning outdoors activates the whole child physically, emotionally, socially, and intellectually. Research shows direct correlations between learning outdoors and enhanced sense of self, social bonding, critical thinking. Students experience a broadened sense of capabilities, including an interest in STEM careers. While learning outside, a deeper appreciation for nature develops. These effects are particularly evident in children from disadvantaged communities, both rural and urban, who benefit from improved graduation rates, decreased behavioral issues, and greater sense of belonging. Transformative experiences in nature are more important than ever. Learning in the outdoors offers an opportunity for our state’s educators and parents to directly address learning loss and the strains of the pandemic on our children’s mental health and social well-being.
WHY OUTDOOR SCHOOL FOR ALL WASHINGTON STUDENTS? Equity: The benefits of Outdoor School are clear, yet currently underserved communities, both rural and urban, lack access to these programs. Outdoor School for All would ensure every student gets these transformative experiences.
Environment: Washington and the world face daunting challenges including climate change, pollution, and resource depletion. Outdoor School for All would prepare the next generation with the skills, understanding, and knowledge to solve these tough problems.
Economy: Outdoor School for All prepares young people for careers in the sciences, education, and natural resources, as well as giving them critical collaborative skills, thereby helping them become prosperous and contributing adults.
Watch for more details on this ever-evolving initiative for our Washington state students, including the lead up to (grade PreK-5) and into high school (counselors and career and tech fields).
Learn more about Outdoor Schools Washington on our new website:
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Association of Washington School Principals
Washington Principal | Volume 3 – 2020-21