Even in Wisconsin, well-prepared students can learn and explore the outdoors year-round. At University School of Milwaukee, teachers regularly lead students on nature trails, to expansive outdoor classroom areas, and all around our 125-acre campus on adventures. A sense of curiosity, and drive to explore and learn, is instilled in students from an early age in USM's Preschool, and is further cultivated throughout the entire school as students grow. The outdoors provides a perfect vehicle for children to learn and to make sense of their surroundings.
The outdoor education program at USM is an integrated program that allows students to learn and experiment in a safe model. The curriculum is built on proven techniques that are based on allowing students to explore and learn at their pace. It is our belief that augmenting classroom rigor with outdoor learning is the best way to expand growing minds. As students explore our prairies, ponds, and woods through hands-on experiences, they are becoming naturalists. Throughout each season, students build connections with nature while sparking their sense of wonder.
Children at USM are learning to be naturalists by jumping in muddy puddles, running through prairies, building with sticks, climbing and turning over rocks, making animal homes in the snow, dipping nets into vernal ponds, and creating a connection to the natural world during each season. Students become scientists through authentic hands-on experiences in nature by developing the ability to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate higher-order thinking. Our intentional outdoor explorations make connections with language, critical thinking skills, and the natural world. These higher-order thinking skills are what makes up early childhood science among a variety of disciplines.
When children are able to connect their discoveries from the outdoors into their classrooms, it weaves the natural and academic worlds while catering to the development of the whole child.
USM is uniquely situated within a beautiful and expansive campus, and it is from this vantage point on which the Middle School outdoor education program is founded. Middle School students explore the outside world throughout the year, and in a wide range of courses. Whether working outside on a science project, deriving inspiration from nature for an art class, reading outside during English, or exploring the trails during sports or an elective, being able to connect students with the nature that surrounds the school is particularly important during this time of great growth for our students.
Students learn that the outdoors are a place for peace, comfort, and acceptance during what can often be a tumultuous time in their lives. Teachers work to instill within students a sense of stewardship over the campus, advocacy for nature and our place within it, as well as a sense of appreciation for where we are and what surrounds us. Older Middle School students have the opportunity to participate in large scale project based learning opportunities and can serve as mentors for our youngest Wildcats. For many students, the reintroduction to the outdoors reminds them that they are still children, while also allowing them the freedoms that they can enjoy as budding adults.
The Upper School outdoor education program is designed to develop and enhance students' skills levels in the outdoors, while also developing an appreciation and understanding of a wide variety of outdoor activities. Some of the activities students may participate in include hiking, biking, fishing, orienteering, geocaching, outdoor safety, ecological identification, ecological impact and studies, winter-dependent activities, and partnering with the Preschool outdoor education program for cross-divisional learning and leadership opportunities.