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Did you know that some elementary schools students learn outdoors once a 
week, or even every day? Research shows that children learn best when they have freedom of movement, choice, and fresh air that outdoor settings can provide. Programs like Forest Days help schools respond to the research by offering hands-on outdoor learning as part of the regular school matter the weather!  (Watch our Forest Days video to learn more.)

Our Forest Days model is an engaging, STEM-based outdoor learning program for public school children and their teachers. An ERAFANS facilitator works closely with teachers to lead weekly outdoor experiences directly with children on the school grounds or nearby park.

This approach builds in professional development through modeling and allows teachers to learn useful strategies to build on related content in their curriculum. Teachers gain firsthand knowledge about how curriculum standards are met through outdoor experiences, including STEM-STEAM concepts, social-emotional development, language and literacy, physical skills, and content standards such as science, math, social studies, and creative arts.  Not least of all, participants cultivate environmental literacy, which encourages care for the Earth and one another.

As a result of the Forest Days program, children experience gains in academic outcomes and increased learner engagement. They also benefit from improved physical fitness and overall mental wellbeing. Participating teachers become more confident and equipped to continue Forest Days on their own as they cultivate their school's culture towards outdoor learning. School faculty, families, and the local community all benefit from the positive outcomes of Forest Days!

Unlike most American nature or forest preschools that are private programs, Forest Days branches out to a diverse population of children in urban and rural areas alike. We partner with sites in Title one schools/centers in Baltimore, MD, Philadelphia, PA and Falls Church, VA. We work closely with public school teachers and administrators to craft a weekly outdoor learning program that works with the nuanced needs of the school community.

Visit Instagram to see photos of Forest Days in action and complete an interest form to explore possibilities at your school.

Forest Days Mission

Forest Days provides STEM-based, 
child-directed, outdoor learning experiences the school weekly during the school year for pre-K through grade 3 students and their teachers in Title 1 public schools.

Teacher Reactions to Forest Days

In a 2023 survey, participating teachers shared the benefits of this program, citing these benefits:

  • More engaged learners
  • Increased retention of content
  • Better communication and social skills
  • Better spatial and body awareness skills
  • Stronger connection to nature/Stronger environmental values/More pro-environmental behaviors
  • Improved attendance
  • Higher learner concentration
  • More self-disciplined learners
  • More physically active/fit learners
  • Higher standardized test scores/Better grades
  • Better reading, math, and writing skills

Quotes from participating teachers:

"Forest Days helped build a more cohesive and cooperative group of learners in our classroom. They worked together, played together, explored, and shared in their experiences outside during Forest Days."

Quotes from parents of Forest Days students:

“Her favorite things are the plants. She says she found a worm, slugs and she saw a deer. She tells us what she sees. She was pointing out cherry blossoms all over the city. She just loves it.  The children and the parents love it. It is so good for them to be outside in the greenery, and just smell it, taking in the fresh air. It’s so good for them.”

“Getting ready for school on forest days morning feels different- my son is excited and as a result more cooperative.”  

"Forest Days gives my son an opportunity to learn outside of the traditional classroom environment and sends the message that learning can take place anywhere.”

“Everyone needs air and sunshine. Its essential for mood, behavior, stress relief and building relationships.”

“Forest Days gives children the ability to get their energy out in a productive way and in a safe environment. I believe children need a space to release energy in order to be calm when back in their classrooms. Also, they get to explore the world and learn things on their own.”

Forest Days Guiding Principles

Outdoor learning is interdisciplinary by nature. We work with school partners to ensure that Forest Days learning aligns with the standards and curriculum that teachers are focused on. To that end, we seamlessly integrate:

  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM-based learning) 
  • Language and Literacy, including writing in nature journals
  • Creative Arts, imaginative play, visual/spatial problem-solving
  • Physical development, movement, active play
  • Social-Emotional learning, cooperation, and empathy
  • Local history and social studies

Standards and curriculum are embedded in the Forest Days experience, yet at the heart of what we do, we respect and value children and nature. We have identified these Guiding Principles of Forest Days to describe our vision of learning during Forest Days.

“Both the forest and the approach, the whole program we are offering, is about freedom in childhood. Children have the right to follow their own interests and explore the world in a safe and dynamic environment.  Children’s movements are so overly controlled in our culture, and this sense of freedom is more and more what’s missing from childhood.”      
- Rachel Schwartzman,
Founding ERAFANS Forest Days Director

About Forest Days

Our Forest Days facilitators lead weekly outdoor learning and exploration in nearby wild spaces, either on the school grounds or within walking distance of the school. Program includes direct work with teachers and children, documentation of child-led learning, on-going collaboration with staff in support of curricular goals, parent involvement, and supplemental nature-based teacher training.

The pilot program in 2018-2019 was offered at a Title 1 public school in the heart of Philadelphia, serving two kindergarten classes and four teachers. We have since expanded to serve two additional elementary schools in Philadelphia serving children in K-3rd grades. In 2022-23, we partnered with a nonprofit preschool that adjoins a Title 1 public school in Falls Church, VA serving six classes of children, ages 2-4 years old. We also partnered with Baltimore-area Judy Centers in Spring 2023 to pilot a program for parents and their children, ages 6 weeks to 4 years old that now serves 4 Baltimore-area Judy Centers. In 2023-24, we also established Forest Days in a Baltimore area Title 1 school serving four classes of kindergarteners and their teachers. We love sharing nature-based education through regular outdoor learning opportunities in the community!

We lead a select number of Forest Days programs to "walk the walk", keeping our finger on the pulse of what teachers need to engage in meaningful outdoor learning in public school settings. What we learn through Forest Days comes right back to you through teacher training! We are delighted to share our lessons learned through helpful tips, tools, and practices that better support you along your teaching journey.

A Sustainable Approach

We work closely with partner schools, facilitating a gradual shift in school culture and approaches to learning. As the ERAFANS Forest Days facilitator concludes work at each school, Forest Days continues as a sustainable program led by trained teachers and viewed as integral to the school community.  
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