A highlight of The Country School experience is our signature Outdoor Education program, a school-wide undertaking that uses the outdoors as both teacher and classroom, providing unique learning and leadership opportunities for all participants. This independent day school located on the shoreline in Madison, Connecticut, emphasizes the importance of the outdoors in programs that begin in PreSchool and culminate right before 8th Grade Graduation.
During the course of their years at The Country School, our students will hike the nature trail that surrounds campus and master challenges on our on-campus ropes course; they will paddle canoes along the Connecticut River and Delaware Water Gap; and they will climb mountains, scale rock walls, and ride river rapids in Utah. These students travel well beyond their New Haven County campus.
An 8th Grader created this video about the 2016 trip to Utah.
Lessons that cannot occur within the walls of a classroom
The Country School’s Outdoor Education program allows students to define and strengthen for themselves qualities of character and citizenship, ideals of practical and philosophical leadership, notions of responsible stewardship of the environment, and sound decision-making skills. Outdoor experiences through this Mission-based program help children learn about themselves, their peers, and their teachers in ways that simply cannot occur within the confines of the classroom.
Success isn't defined by the top of that rock face; it's defined by where you think you can go and then you're able to reach that point and then, is it that one more inch?
— Bob McGee, TCS math teacher and Outdoor Education Program founder
To read an article about Mr. McGee and the Outdoor Education Program, click here.
Confidence to face future challenges
The Country School's Outdoor Education program complements our academic curriculum. Care has been taken to design a series of outdoor experiences that present physical challenges and skills in a sequential manner. While all activities are challenge by choice, students are encouraged to extend beyond their personal comfort levels in a supportive environment.
Through the Outdoor Education program, our students are asked to face adversity and to persevere. They are challenged both physically and mentally, and they gain a newfound appreciation for the interdependence of the world around them. They return from these adventures with a sense of pride and accomplishment. We believe that this unique learning experience, distinct among independent schools, instills in our students the confidence to face future challenges with an eye toward success.
The Country School is fortunate to have a 12-station low ropes course right on campus. Designed to facilitate such personal and group goals as trust, teamwork, leadership, and effective communication, the ropes course presents a series of challenges that require participants to use collaborative skills and problem-solving techniques. Through games, group initiatives, and low ropes obstacles, students are challenged physically, emotionally, and intellectually in a safe and secure environment.
Located in the wooded area surrounding our athletic fields, the ropes course is also used by faculty, administrators, and staff to encourage the same kind of teamwork and collaborative skills and techniques that we aim to build in our students. The ropes course was created in 2009 as part of the anonymous gift that brought about the Community Garden. Both the garden and the ropes course complement our unique Outdoor Education program, supporting the school’s whole-child mission through a purposeful and comprehensive affective education curriculum.
In the Lower School, the Outdoor Education program is relatively informal, as students engage in on-campus nature walks and adventures on our ropes course. They also use the outdoors as a classroom, such as when the 2nd Graders, studying Colonial Days in America, construct "villages" in the woods.
Students embark on field trips to area tidal pools, beaches, nature centers, and other natural landmarks. They learn how to treat and care for animals, hatch monarch butterflies, and grow plants in our on-campus garden.
In the Intermediate grades, the program becomes more structured. While still continuing to use our on-campus resources, students also engage in a series of outdoor experiences planned and conducted in collaboration with The Mountain Workshop, a professional outdoor leadership organization.
In the spring of the 4th Grade year, students experience an on-campus overnight "tent-in," and in 5th Grade, they have their first off-campus overnight outdoor trip, during which environmental activities, team building, and leadership activities are emphasized.
Sixth and 7th Graders engage in overnight trips throughout New England and participate in such activities as rock climbing, canoeing, hiking, orienteering, and raft building. In the fall of the 8th Grade year, students and faculty join Mountain Workshop leaders for a three-night, four-day canoe trip along the Delaware Water Gap. The program culminates in the spring of the 8th Grade year with a 10-day trip to the American Southwest, where participants engage in desert and high alpine hiking, river rafting, rock climbing, canyoneering, and camping.
The Country School's Children's Garden, in Honor of a Rose, is our community garden and outdoor classroom. It provides opportunities for hands-on experiential education, quiet reflection, and collaborative learning for children and adults alike. A gift to The Country School from a generous family, the garden offers real life, and real time, opportunities to teach about sustainability and ecology, while also accommodating different learning styles and offering new ways to present our curriculum.
Students spend time planting, caring for, and cultivating the garden, which produces a bounty throughout the growing season — from ornamental flowers to herbs, fruits, and vegetables, such as apples, tomatoes, beans, squash, peppers, and pumpkins. Students sometimes eat the produce or use it in a classroom cooking project. Other times they distribute produce to the community or donate it to area food pantries.
A garden shelter made from towering pines, a gift from the Class of 2010, serves as an outdoor garden classroom (and a popular lunch spot for students), while a living willow arbor is a favorite spot for students to gather for a quiet conversation or to curl up with a book or a sketchpad.
The garden provides a retreat for the hurried child, a quiet reading corner, a gathering space for discussions and celebrations, a magnificent studio to create and imagine, and, of course, an opportunity for everyone to get their hands dirty.