The Importance of Nature in School Settings

Spring 2018

A school’s buildings and environment are always important, but for The Pilot School (DE), which serves students ages 5 through 14 who have faced academic challenges in traditional classrooms, both of those things are critical.
The Pilot School is considered a “short stay” therapeutic day school, designed to help students transition back to traditional schools. The facility, which opened in November 2016, replaced an aging building about a mile away.
The new Pilot School is set on 50 acres, surrounded by 2,000 acres of county, state, and federal parkland, including First State National Historical Park’s scenic Beaver Valley. The students have access to many nature trails. The previous school, built in 1965, was located on 13 acres in a residential neighborhood with no access to wooded areas or trails.
The new campus has five outdoor classrooms, including an amphitheater. There’s also an adventure track and a wooded play area with rocks and logs to encourage natural play. A sustainable storm water management  system has become an instructional tool: Where students enter the building, a small rainwater collection area regularly creates ponds. Students measure the amount of rainfall weekly and gauge how quickly the water will return to the ground.
Large-view windows, warm woods, and boulders in the lobby bring the outdoors in and continue the organic, natural focus. There’s also a large stone fireplace to create a cozy, welcoming feel.

Charles Uniatowski Photography, courtesy of Quinn Evans Architects   

A slide in the library is another highlight. Administrators say this feature engages children and makes the library a fun destination—an important benefit in a school where many students feel challenged in their reading skills.
The entire school is designed to minimize insecurities and distractions, embrace differences, and support efforts to build confidence, self-esteem, and creativity. According to administrators, parents are thrilled with the new building, and have frequently said that their children are much calmer and happier about going to school.

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