Mountain Village Charter School
The Mountain Village Charter School of Plymouth, New Hampshire, combines nature-based and Montessori education approaches in an innovative, student-centered curriculum. It is the first in the nation to provide this combination in a public elementary school, and one of the first schools to bring nature-based education to the elementary levels. The school received its public charter in 2013, and opened in September 2014 with grades 1-3. It will continue to grow a grade a year through eighth grade.
Located on over two hundred acres of forest upland in the Baker River Valley of New Hampshire, the school benefits from a diversity of forest, field and wetland communities. Mountain Village is a perfect place for students to follow their natural passions and curiosities into a close relationship with the place in which they live. The nature-based program at Mountain Village gives students intimate familiarity with their natural environment, feelings of comfort and connectedness to the natural world, and the skills and knowledge to inquire about their surroundings.
While creating ecologically literate citizens, the nature-based program enhances student achievement in all elements of the school’s curriculum. The benefits of time spent outside are many. It enhances the students’ neurological function for learning, promotes better focus and attentiveness, helps them manage other life-stressors so that they are less distracted, and encourages self-guided social and emotional learning with peers. While time outside varies with the day, students are outside an average of 2-3 hours/day, engaging in guided exploration, class roves, sit-spot observations, unstructured work-play and some formal lessons.
“Learning is in our Nature”
The Montessori and nature-based curricular elements integrate well. Each approach respects a student’s natural path of inquiry, and provides freedom to explore and learn, while also promoting the self-discipline to follow that path with responsibility and integrity. The teaching staff in this innovative program are constantly developing new practices and approaches that embrace Montessori principles in an outdoor setting, or bring nature-based inquiry into the Montessori classroom.
After six years of school, students who graduate from MVCS will have spent well over 2000 hours of time in immersive nature-experiences. These young explorers will have become experts in the flora and fauna of our region, in the seasonal changes of soil, water and sky, in the environmental challenges and potential solutions specific to our home community. They will know details like where red-backed salamanders hide in dry times, what flowers bloom first in shaded forest plots, which frogs prefer moving water and others ponds, which birds return first to their home. They will have an intimate familiarity with their natural environment not seen in common New Hapshire citizens for generations. This knowledge will strengthen their identity and confidence, increase their interest in science and technology, enhance their ability to address environmental problem solving, and enhance their overall health and happiness for their entire lifetime.