John Dorr Nature Laboratory
In 1965, Horace Mann established
the John Dorr Nature Laboratory in
Washington, Connecticut with a gift of 83 acres. The Laboratory now encompasses
275 acres of fields, streams, and ponds in which students can explore nature
and engage in outdoor pursuits. Dorr’s resident four-person faculty instructs students in
environmental science, conservation, and outdoor living. Student visits begin
in the second grade, with overnight programs beginning in the third grade. A recent $8 million capital project resulted in
the creation of a new access road, the purchase of additional land, the construction of a new
bunkhouse and faculty residence, and the building of a new lodge and multi-purpose barn/classroom. The project
also upgraded mechanicals and utilities. The new facilities insure greater
sustainability and provide more space for programming. To learn more about our LEED certified campus, click here. This Dorr setting becomes a medium for students' self-discovery through
which they can examine their relationships with others and study the
natural environment in new and growth-enhancing ways. As a result, the
programs emphasize the cooperative aspects of living and learning as
opposed to competition and individualization.
The John Dorr Nature Laboratory
operates with the premise that it is vital to life on Earth to increase
awareness, understanding, and appreciation of the world around us. The Dorr
educational philosophy also incorporates the idea that self-esteem is a
critical determinant of an individual’s growth. Our ultimate goal is to provide
an environment where students can be honest about their feelings, careful in
their thinking, and responsible for their actions through their interactions
with the natural world and with each other. The Dorr experience
demonstrates that community cannot be imposed but must grow out of
experience; that it is a result of working together and relying on one
activities embedded in the Dorr curriculum facilitate growth and understanding
in the students. The programs are designed to encourage their development into
capable, self-determining individuals. Experience-based teaching enhances the
learning environment because growth in mind, body, and spirit requires active
participating combined with active thinking. In order to attain these goals and
to help students accept the experience as relevant and meaningful, we must
create a safe, caring, supportive atmosphere, one that allows for differences
and encourages acceptance. When we bring a positive, energizing, and caring
force to relationships, we give each other the highest and most important gift
we can offer.
Over the past 40 years, Dorr faculty members have collaborated with
classroom teachers to carefully design and modify each grade’s
curricula. The result is a rich experience that introduces students to
a different aspect of the great outdoors and compliments classroom
In addition, the students are presented with
opportunities to experiment and take calculated risks in order to
learn, grow and build self-esteem. Dorr teachers are often questioning
students: What are your resources? What do you need to solve this
problem? How will you frame this experience? What is the lens through
which you want to view this? How do you want to participate in this
Students must work together to
prepare meals, clean the lodge and complete many activities. In doing
so, students come together to form a caring and respectful community
filled with camaraderie, which is then carried back to the classroom.
Students learn that their mutual success hinges on their mutual
concern, cooperation and respect.
Below is a summary of the activities for each grade level:
classes welcome Dorr staff as they teach about camping. The program
culminates with a “camping trip” in the Head of School’s backyard,
complete with a campfire.
- Kindergarten classes welcome Dorr staff in the classroom as they lead activities at the Apple Fest and Earth Day Celebrations.
- First grade classes welcome Dorr staff in the classrooms as they teach about insects and life within a rotting log.
- Second grade students visit Dorr for an extended day where they fish and swamp.
- Third grade students sleep overnight at Dorr where they learn about Native Americans.
- Fourth grade students spend 3-days/2-nights studying stream ecology.
grade students spend 3-days/2-nights in the fall focusing on how they
are ending their journey at the Lower Division and preparing for their
journey into the Middle Division. They take rock-climbing lessons and
use telescopes to study the night sky.
- Sixth grade students
attend by homeroom in August for 3-days/2-nights of orientation. They
learn about the Middle Division through presentations by Middle
Division administrators and Upper Division student mentors. The
activities focus on team building.
- Seventh grade students
attend by science class for 2-days/1-night for field studies on streams
and geology. They must accumulate data and write lab reports.
grade students spend 8-days/7-nights for a mini-Outward Bound type
program. They participate in team-building and self-exploration
activities, including a Night Compass Initiative and a backpacking
trip. A highlight of this week is climbing the Cooperative Adventure
- Ninth-Twelfth Grades new students and student
mentors come over Labor Day weekend for a 3-days/2-nights orientation.
Mentors and school administrators give presentations to help these
newest members of the community learn about the social and academic
life at Horace Mann. The activities are designed to be fun and
cooperative -- one of the highlights is traversing the High Ropes
Course in small groups.
- Ninth-Twelfth Grades: Individual
teachers, club advisors and athletic coaches sometimes choose to bring
their own students to Dorr to accomplish a particular goal. Examples
include writing poetry, drawing or studying nature as well as