What is Outdoor School?

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Outdoor School is a smart, time-tested, hands-on week of solid, effective science education in the field with a more than 60-year history in Oregon.

In 1957, a field science program called Outdoor School (ODS) was launched in Oregon. It is an opportunity for students in fifth or sixth grade to move from their school classrooms into the outdoors to learn, immersed in nature. ODS programs are typically housed in residential camps; students stay onsite for up to five nights. While there, students learn about soil, water, plants and animals, as well as natural sciences specific to the local community and economy.

For many children, ODS is their very first experience hiking in a forest, getting their feet wet in a stream or exploring sea life along a sandy beach. For others, ODS gives them new understandings and perspectives about the natural world they thought they already knew. These seminal experiences expand young minds and can transform lives.


Why Outdoor School?


Significant research supports the benefits of ODS:

  • Increased achievement and comprehension in math and science

  • Improved testing scores and attendance

  • Motivation to learn increases and class performance improves

  • ODS programming directly supports systems thinking and STEM
    (science, technology, engineering, math) learning and meets state
    education curriculum standards.

  • Empirical Evidence Supporting Benefits of Outdoor School & Experiential Learning Programs here.

  • Learn more about current research on Outdoor School outcomes in Oregon here.


Develops Critical Thinking

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An inquiry-based program, ODS is a unique chance for kids to experience the connections among living things and biological systems, such as watersheds or riparian forests. Instead of learning these concepts from a book, students develop critical thinking skills by asking questions in the field then working together to investigate, measure and report their discoveries. Students simply can’t get the same natural science experience inside a classroom.

Gets Kids Unplugged & Positively Engaged

Instead of being glued to digital screens, students conduct real-world natural science projects, nurturing a lifelong connection to the land. This is an important aspect of the program; Oregon’s economy−and future−relies on supporting our natural resource industries, such as timber, tourism, outdoor recreation, farming and more. Outdoor School is a great way to teach future generations that they don’t need to choose between our economy and our environment.


High School Students Benefit, Too

In many programs, high school students volunteer as junior counselors (also called Student Leaders) to work directly with younger students while receiving guidance and feedback from staff. They gain invaluable skills relevant to work, school and life.

For example, high school student leaders at Multnomah ESD Outdoor School participate in a post-experience survey to determine leadership and other skill-building outcomes. The survey is aligned to career-related learning standards and American School Counselor Association (ASCA) goals. For high school students who volunteer for one week of ODS leadership, 87% said ODS made them more likely to spend time on their own in the outdoors.

Outdoor School increased:

  • Confidence: 90%

  • Public Speaking Skill: 85%

  • Self-advocacy skills: 79%

  • Desire to be a good student: 71%

  • Interest in other volunteer opportunities: 87%

  • Interest in math and science: 65%



Outdoor School is...


88% of five-time high school Student Leaders reported using skills they gained at ODS in science and math classes


Outdoor School serves more than 2,000 students with specific needs every year.


50% of student leaders who completed just two weeks of leadership reported using skills they gained at ODS in mediating conflicts among peers.


65% of student leaders who had  completed four weeks of leadership report that ODS has had a "large influence" on their interest in other volunteer opportunities.

For every one hour of paid staff time, Outdoor School averages 10 hours of volunteer time.


Our Future

81% of high school Student Leaders report that Outdoor School contributed to their knowledge of jobs in the environmental field.

My Student Leader made lessons fun and easy to learn. She made me excited about soil and rocks!
— Sixth-grade student
Suffering a stroke one week before birth left her totally paralyzed requiring a life supporting ventilator and 24-hour care. We would like to thank the team at Outdoor School for helping Wryleigh experience many outdoor activities never before known to her.
— Parent of a sixth-grade student
I learned things about myself, like the fact that if you’re confident in yourself enough, you can do anything. I will always remember my Student Leader for the rest of my life.
— Sixth-grade student
ODS has reminded me that we are all a part of the same environment and community, so we need to respect each other and nature.
— High school Student Leader
Outdoor School is the finest program to have come out of education in my [32-year] professional career. The program and its delivery are so well conceived that I can honestly say it is unmatched by any other program in any area of our curriculum provided for students. In education, we strive to truly have a lifelong impact on our students and their families and I can honestly say that Outdoor School does a better job of this than probably anything else.
— Sixth-grade teacher