Outdoor Learning

At SSA Country Day School, classes are not limited by walls. Teachers in all grades and disciplines take lessons outside, where students can engage with nature and explore the world around them. Outdoor Learning at the Treehouse

Country Day School sits on 17 acres of wooded parkland, offering endless outdoor learning opportunities. In addition to a playground, athletic field and garden, the campus includes an outdoor classroom and a new treehouse classroom nestled in the woods.

The treehouse classroom, which opened in 2018, is the only one of its kind in Western Pennsylvania. It features a 12x20-foot enclosed classroom with Murphy tables and large windows that provide fresh air and natural light. A 30x30-foot observation deck surrounds the classroom, and a suspension bridge runs to a platform on a neighboring tree.

Country Day’s teachers take full advantage of the treehouse, outdoor classroom and woods as learning spaces year-round. For example:

Science
Second, fourth and fifth graders use the treehouse as a geology lab, collecting and analyzing rock and soil samples. Third graders study the layers of the forest by observing birds and caterpillars in the canopy, searching for bugs and salamanders in the woods, and building habitat terrariums.

Language Arts
Students use the sights and sounds of the woods as inspiration for writing nature poetry. After fifth graders read the book Hatchet about a teen surviving on his own in the wilderness, they reenact the character’s experience by building a shelter in the woods and cooking on a backpacking stove.

Art
Students study and recreate the colors, patterns and textures of nature and gather natural materials such as leaves and flowers to create artwork.

Music
The shady wooden stairs of the treehouse are a perfect spot for singing, and swaying on the suspended bridge when singing in 6/8 meter is a lot of fun too. The outdoor classroom is a great spot for campfire-style singalongs.

Students also benefit from the SSA Farm program, an Academy-wide PK-12 sustainability education initiative. Country Day’s campus features a U-shaped garden bed that students help to maintain, beginning seedlings in the science lab and transplanting them to the garden, and harvesting fresh veggies to make salads and salsa. They also visit the 4,000-square-foot farm on the SSA Senior School campus across the road to observe firsthand how bees aid in pollination and how chickens provide nutrients and control insects.

CDS Earth Detective Unit

HOW WE EXPLORE

As part of their Earth Detective unit, students make inferences about petrified wood, rocks and fossils they find in the woods on campus, connecting these discoveries with concepts learned in the science classroom.