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Outdoor Education Empowers Kids

Outdoor Education Empowers Kids

By Seth Jones, ADK Education Director

In today’s fast-paced, digital age, it is crucial to instill in children a love and ­appreciation for the outdoors. This is precisely what ADK’s ­Marie L. Haberl School Out­reach Pro­gram: Three ­Seasons at Heart Lake achieves, offering an invalu­able opportunity for fourth-grade students from underserved com­munities in northern New York to explore the wonders of nature and develop a deeper understanding of the environment.

The program’s focus on inquiry-­based environmental education is a breath of fresh air in an era dominated by standardized tests and rigid curricula. By seamlessly integrating responsible outdoor recreation, wellness, and the natural and cultural history of the Adirondacks, Three Seasons at Heart Lake engages students in a way that traditional classroom learning cannot. Through hands-on experiences, this program sparks curiosity in students, encourages critical thinking, and nurtures a sense of wonder about the world around them.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the program is its inclusivity. By reaching out to rural and urban schools, particularly those from Hamilton, Clinton, Franklin, and Essex Counties, where poverty and childhood obesity levels are high, Three Seasons at Heart Lake ensures that children from all backgrounds have the opportunity to participate. With an average of 51 percent of children in these counties enrolled in the free/reduced school lunch program, the program’s provision of free access is an incredible gift to these students, who might otherwise be deprived of opportunities to engage with the outdoors.

Children sitting on a summit

The Three Seasons at Heart Lake curriculum unfolds over the course of the school year with three key components: classroom visits, journals, and field visits. Each component is ­designed in collaboration with teachers to align with New York State Learning Standards and complement classroom goals. This integration of academic disciplines ensures that students not only gain a deeper understanding of nature but also strengthens their skills in reading, writing, math, and science.

The impact of this program extends far beyond the classroom walls. By offering field visits to ADK’s Heart Lake Program Center in Lake Placid, students are provided with firsthand experiences that bring their lessons to life. As a part of this, they explore forest ecology, learn essential outdoor skills such as Leave No Trace principles, and develop an appreciation for the area’s natural and cultural history. These field visits not only enhance their academic learning but also foster a sense of adventure, teamwork, and decision-making abilities.

Moreover, Three Seasons at Heart Lake places a significant emphasis on health and wellness. Its engaging outdoor activities encourage students to embrace an active lifestyle and share their newfound knowledge with their families. By incorporating physical exercise, the program addresses the pressing issue of childhood obesity in underserved communities, empowering students to make healthier choices and improve their overall well-being.

The success of Three Seasons at Heart Lake over the past two decades can be attributed to the generosity of donors and grant funding, which have allowed ADK to offer the program free of charge to participating schools. This philanthropic support reflects a collective commitment to the education and well-being of our children, and it is an investment that pays dividends in the form of empowered and engaged young learners.  

As we navigate an increasingly urbanized and digitized world, it is crucial to equip our children with knowledge of and appreciation for the natural world. Three Seasons at Heart Lake stands as a shining example of how outdoor education can enrich the lives of students, fostering a deep connection to nature, promoting critical thinking, and encouraging a healthier lifestyle. By supporting and expanding initiatives like this, we can empower future generations to become responsible stewards of public lands and ensure a sustainable future for all. 

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