Outdoor ‘Buddy’ Lessons: Students Learn About Earth Sciences, Biology, and Building Community

With so many parents seeking out positive learning experiences for their children, teachers and administrators are often asked just what it is that sets their school apart. At Mount Madonna School (MMS), located atop a mountain overlooking the Monterey Bay, the inspiring natural environment of 355 acres of redwood forests and oak meadows is one significant and unique offering for local students and their families.

To enhance the three pillars of academic excellence, positive character development and creative self-expression that infuse all of the classes (PreK through grade 12), MMS maintains a particularly successful ‘buddy program’ to support students’ community-building experiences and cross-age learning.
Imagine, if you will, a typical Thursday morning for the preschool and kindergarten children arriving at MMS. These students are met with loving and welcoming arms into a bright, beautiful and spacious classroom. A very small teacher-to-student ratio allows all students the proper attention and energy, both educationally and personally, as they begin the school day. This morning involves preparing for a buddy hike through the well-maintained wooded trails with their older first and second grade friends and teachers!
Watching deer grazing on the hillside is a familiar sight, as are the gentle, wild turkeys that roam freely through the meadows. So much is learned during these weekly hikes: earth sciences, biology, conversational skills and how to really “listen” to each other and the environment. They also learn how to walk safely with a partner, in a line (when appropriate). Wild grasses are observed and named, animal prints are identified, and students learn the names and growth patterns of much that exists within the surrounding redwood ecology that is effectively, their outdoor classroom.
In addition, interpersonal relationships are being formed and those all-important social skills learned and practiced to help teachers and students together in creating a thriving learning community. Certainly there is abundant research suggesting that cross-age relationships and learning are a positive growth factor in a child’s school experience. And let’s not overlook the health factors.
In today’s fast-paced lifestyle, many children lack the opportunity to spend much time, let alone participate in nature hikes which test their physical strength and stamina; and the buddy system is certainly beneficial for encouragement and enjoyment when facing ANY challenge! MMS’ PreK students and their first and second grade buddies are a sturdy bunch from all their walks and adventures during outdoor learning and play time.
In a world moving very fast for 3 to 6-year-olds (and even some adults), time in the fresh air and sunshine with a big buddy, hiking through fields and forests to the accompanying sound of birdsong, is a great way for a child to build a relationship, not only with another person, but with nature itself. It is through these early outdoor ‘lessons’ on compassion, interconnectedness and stewardship, that students learn to see the planet as their friend – to be studied and learned from, enjoyed and cared for, with reverence and respect.

Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, Marketing & Communications 

Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.