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Returning to Our Roots

Exterior photo of Firestone Hall at dusk
Returning to Our Roots

“To raise a nature-bonded child is to raise a rebel, a dreamer, an innovator… someone who will walk their own verdant, winding path.” —Nicolette Sowder

In the early 1980s, a Harvard University biologist named Edward O. Wilson proposed a theory called biophilia: that humans are instinctively drawn toward their natural surroundings.  

Converging evidence suggests that experiences in nature aren’t just enjoyable but can also have a profoundly positive impact on young children, boosting academic learning, personal development and environmental stewardship.

“Nature is an assured respite from our modern world stressors while providing our sense of well-being and much more,” said Erin McNamara, Old Trail School’s new director of experiential and nature-based learning. “Contact with nature can enhance creativity, bolster mood, lower stress, improve mental acuity, improve productivity, cultivate social connectedness and promote physical activity. As children observe, reflect, record and share nature's patterns and rhythms, they are participating in a process that promotes scientific 
and ecological awareness, problem-solving and creativity out of authentic, firsthand experiences.”  

Uniquely positioned in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Old Trail School has long offered its students a distinctive opportunity to engage in nature since its move to Ira Road in 1967. As the nation’s only independent school located in a national park, OTS and its community have daily access to abundant resources, unparalleled experiences, and a beautiful setting to call home.

“Our students have shown an inherent, profound interrelation to their environment during our time together,” Ms. McNamara said. “First graders are diligently nurturing propagated plants, observing the root growth, delighting in the tightly curled new bud or leaf. Our youngest learners fill their pockets (and mine) with treasures from the trail. 

Fourth graders are awestruck by the ability to create their own reliable compasses, testing them in the field.” On any given day, small groups of children can be seen and heard, led by Ms. McNamara, in open fields, on winding trails and at the learning farm on campus exploring and deepening their connections to nature.  

“It is my highest motivation that in these small moments we are planting the seed of stewardship,” Ms. McNamara continued. “These small moments may lay a foundation for a future population that sees wonder in nature and advocates for our place in preserving and enjoying all our planet provides. By unlocking the wonder of the natural world in children, opportunities abound.” 

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