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Woodlawn School Students Inspired by New Outdoor Learning Space

by | Oct 6, 2020 | News, School News (K-12)

Founding Teacher and Alumnus Build New Outdoor Classroom Over Labor Day Weekend.

Woodlawn School, an independent K-12 school noted for project based learning and academic excellence, is expanding its outdoor learning spaces and curriculum thanks to the work of its founding teacher.

After reading Forest Bathing, by Dr. Qing Li, Kim Lysne, Woodlawn’s founding teacher, set out to develop her own outdoor curriculum that centered around allowing her students to be in the forest as much as possible. “I knew I would have to be innovative this school year. With all of the social distancing and mask requirements, I was determined to find a way to introduce the students to a different way of learning,” says Lysne. While spending time in her home state of Minnesota, she met up with a friend who was also a big believer in forest bathing, a certified guide, and author of Wild Calm, by Joan Vorderbruggen. “Once I began to explore the benefits of forest bathing, I immediately started thinking of how I could integrate art and design with the science and social studies curriculum, but take it all outside.”

And so, over the Labor Day weekend, Drew Hedrick ’16, a project construction manager for Niblock Homes, arrived on campus with his truckload of power tools and wood and began helping make Woodlawn’s outdoor learning space a reality. “Drew showed up on a Wednesday night to walk through the outdoor learning space and make suggestions, then he came back at 6 a.m. Saturday morning, and with the help of parent volunteer, Doug Klein (Morgan ’19, RJ ’22, Dean ’26), the outdoor benches were all done by noon,” says Lysne. “It’s a very organic and welcoming place for the kids to come and spread out. This outdoor learning space now has enough seating for 16 students, while still allowing for the mandatory six feet of distance.”

Hedrick is no stranger to Woodlawn, having spent nine years of his life on Woodlawn’s campus as a student. “One of the coolest things about my time at Woodlawn was how classes were held outside as frequently as possible,” says Drew. “So, when they reached out about expanding the low ropes course area to include an outdoor learning environment, I quickly jumped at the opportunity. I remember just how much I appreciated being outside and not being limited to the four walls of a traditional classroom.” Drew and his younger brother Will ’18, along with Jake Johnson ’17, Quinn Schneider ’17 and Zach Lorch ’17 all contributed in the building phases of the low ropes course throughout the years, which has now morphed into a very necessary outdoor learning space.

Lysne encourages her students to spend time in the woods, to not be preoccupied about getting from point A to point B. A large part of her curriculum will be geared towards taking what the students are learning in their core classes and enriching their learning with projects designed for the outdoors. Lysne, who has a deep background in science and design, is also a naturalist. She says not only will this be a place for students to find calm in our crazy world, the forest can also be a great place of learning about history, nature, art, and science.

“I am lucky enough to work on a 61-acre campus that is surrounded by hundred-year-old oaks, towering poplars, and even scrubby little sap trees. Everywhere you look around Woodlawn, there are trees,” says Lysne. “I was recently setting up for my class and looked up to find two white-tailed deer watching. I think my students would get a kick out of that.”

About Woodlawn School

Accredited by both the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS) and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), Woodlawn School offers a challenging, project-based academic experience, Woodlawn School students are expected to meet the demands of a rigorous academic program, as well as demonstrate initiative, responsibility, and social awareness. Woodlawn encourages students to experiment, evolve, and grow into the people they each were meant to be. Whether you are an artist, scholar, or an athlete, being a Woodlawn Student means learning is a lifestyle and you are pushed to be the best you can be.

The Woodlawn campus combines its many outdoor learning areas with an historic house, a barn-style gym, and small classrooms – all tailored to the school’s collaborative and “whole-child centered” approach to education. Evidence of the success of the school’s philosophy can be seen in the accomplishments of its distinguished alumni, the colleges attended by these graduates, and the preparation of these graduates.

For more information, contact Judi North  at 630.359.8079 or at her email. Burt Philips at 704.516.9101 or his email.

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