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There is a strong connection between kids, open land, and outdoor education.

Outdoor education is by definition hands-on exploration that is “place-based.” Outdoors. In particular, studying science outdoors requires access and a connection to open land. If one’s goal is to teach about the water cycle, for example, the most effective way to do it is to visit snowfields, streams, and lakes. To study animal habitats, the best way to do that is to go into those habitats and experience them first-hand.

What better place than Southwestern Montana to offer outdoor science classes? Wildlife habitat and migration routes, rivers and streams, geological formations, fossils, forests – they are all right here on our doorstep. While I’m sure there are resourceful educators in Detroit and Boston who find creative ways to get kids outdoors to learn about the natural world, it is extraordinarily easier here.

Thankfully, there are abundant public lands in our part of the country. The Montana Outdoor Science School is also fortunate to have connections with private landowners who invite us on to their properties for some of our programs.

Access to the phenomenal new Story Mill Park just down the road from the Fish Technology Center where MOSS is based will be an enormous asset. The range and accessibility of habitat and natural features so close to town is unique. Whether through organized groups like MOSS or just an impromptu family excursion, the Story Mill Park is exactly the sort of “open space” that makes teaching outdoor science possible.

A primary advantage of studying natural science en place is that many students find the information easier to “absorb” because it is made more relevant. It is more effective to learn about erosion or seed dispersion, for example, by experiencing and observing them where they occur rather than reading about them or enduring a lecture. Imagine studying music only by reading musical notes on a page. Then envision the difference between that and attending a classical concert. Outdoors, kids see, hear, and feel the music of nature.

So, “what is the connection between kids, open land, and outdoor education?” It is vital. The availability of access to open land is fundamental to this means of teaching.

July is Open Land Month, so get out there and enjoy it!

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Hans Figi is the executive director of the Montana Outdoor Science School in Bozeman.

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