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Outdoor Classroom

An Early Welcome to Dorr’s Natural Playground

Nursery students are introduced to Dorr when the Dorr faculty visits Horace Mann's Manhattan and Bronx campuses to play games and explore nature both near (around the Grasshopper) and far (in our inflatable planetarium). Students visit Dorr for the first time in the second grade for a one-day program in late May. They spend time exploring the pond and swamp and looking for different life forms, making crafts, and observing nature through sensory awareness activities. Third graders spend two days in April learning to feel at home in a new space, while expanding on the mapping theme that is part of their academic curriculum. 

The three-day fourth-grade program serves, in part, as an extension of the grades study of stream ecology and weather. The students also go swimming and canoeing, work together building cooking fires and cooking for one another, and learn to use unstructured play to form friendships and create adventures. The fifth-grade uses the metaphor of a journey to assist students in exploring their relationships with one another and their experience in the Lower Division. The design incorporates reflection on the past and discussion of the present, along with group challenges, astronomy, and rock climbing.

Growing Up Together

Horace Mann's sixth graders visit Dorr for an overnight in August to kick off the new school year with community and connection. Designed to guide the transition into the Middle Division, the program is designed around student homeroom/advisory groups, which will be a touchpoint for students over the next three years. The students engage in activities with the Dorr faculty, their homeroom teachers, and Upper Division student mentors. The program includes problem-solving games, discussion groups, and activities that encourage cooperation, nurture self-esteem, and cultivate a respect for others. A similar program is offered for incoming seventh and eighth graders.

Science and the Lab

The two-day seventh-grade program serves to engage students in field data collection and observation that bridges the gap between conceptual learning and real world application.  The forest health lab that students participate in while at Dorr is an extension of the science curriculum and focuses on reinforcing ecological concepts while also contributing to an ongoing study run by Harvard.  Student’s own science classes use the data collected throughout the term to illustrate and connect various topics.

Easing the Transition for Eighth Graders

The longest program consists of five days at the nature lab and is reserved for eighth-graders. Designed as a rite of passage, it asks students to consider and take ownership of their perspective and their impact.  It is a significant learning experience for many students because the tasks they must accomplish during their stay range from fundamental chores to making tough decisions such as finding their through the woods using map and compass in the dark, or distributing equipment equitably for a backpacking trip so that no one is overburdened. As a result, students are compelled to think carefully and responsibly in new patterns. The challenges may include climbing the 45-foot cooperative adventure tower while depending on a classmate to belay them, zipping off the tower on a 300-foot zip wire, setting up a tent, packing a backpack, and seeing familiar peers and themselves with fresh eyes. At the close of the week, students are asked to spend time reflecting on their experience, and on how it might be relevant to other aspects of their lives and futures.

Building Lasting Memories

The Upper Division orientation is a three-day program designed to welcome students entering Horace Mann for the first time in the ninth grade. The activities introduce the students to the social and academic life of the school and provide them with an opportunity to form new friendships. Throughout the school year, Upper Division students return to Dorr with clubs and classes.

A Lesson for the Ages

The Dorr Nature Laboratory is a place where kids can be kids within a unique learning environment while rising to the occasions that present themselves. They learn the importance of community, and that a community cannot be imposed, but must grow out of experience, that each person has an impact on and a shared responsibility to the whole, and that mutual success hinges on mutual concern. In addition to developing their own resilience and courage, students learn to rely on their peer community, as well as be a support for others. Gaining this knowledge is one of the many rewards of time spent at Dorr, and one of the lessons students carry into the world.