ALBERTVILLE, Minn. -- "Do you hear it?" Diane Onerheim's kindergarten class strains to identify what kind of bird they are hearing as they head to their lesson on measuring. While it looks like a walk in the park, this stroll, about the length of a football field, takes these Albertville Primary School students from one classroom to another.
"We know in kindergarten we can't just have kids sitting around," said Director of Curriculum, Dr. Ann-Marie Foucault. "They're wiggly. If they don't have that movement, it's really hard for a lot of them to learn."
Foucault worked with high school students to plan and build the space. It includes a walking path with activity stations to get kids moving, an actual classroom area with painted rocks where students can sit as a group, and a wooded area where students can observe nature in action. High school students also build bird houses so students can observe wildlife.
It's important to note these are kindergarten students. Albertville Primary is exclusively kindergarten, which means next year, nearly every first-grader in the district will have had this outdoor experience.
Teachers make the most of it, incorporating science, social studies and math into their lesson plans which take them outside year round.
"We're measuring trees," Onerheim reminds her students as they enter the woods, tape measures in hand. This is the kind of real world application teachers strive to bring their students. "Measuring authentic things that they might find in nature," said Onerheim.
Onerheim says a number can be very abstract to a kindergarten student. This shows the kids different ways numbers can be used.
A tulip patch planted by the students gives them something else to measure, and opens up a science experiment -- predicting how fast the tulips will grow, and why some are growing faster than others.
Foucault believes the outdoor classroom is helping students achieve on every level, pointing to test scores that have improved by 30-percent over roughly the same time the outdoor classroom has been in use.
"Bottom line, we want them to learn," said Foucault. "We want to challenge them."