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Program History

Bradford Woods is a natural museum of American history. From artifacts of historical Native Americans to items from the Bradford mining operation in the early 1900’s, the Woods holds secrets of its past. In the early 1950’s through Indiana University, Bradford Woods became known to the schools in Monroe County, and the value of its lessons emerged as a premier location for environmental education.

The first formal program to be conducted at Bradford Woods began in 1954, when Bloomington’s University School visited for residential summer camps. This was the beginning of the relationship between Bradford Woods and schools, as Dr. Reynold Carlson developed and delivered the first environmental education programs, initiating an educational era that has lasted for more than 55 years. As news traveled about this pristine property and its impending discoveries, more schools began to send their students to Bradford Woods for residential programs. Today, the environmental education program is thriving, largely because of the increased cultural emphasis on the value of sustainability, the global importance of environmental stewardship, and the physical fitness and health of children.

Today’s environmental education programs are based on state and national standards in science, math, language arts, and social studies. The modules are endorsed by educators around the state and offer children the opportunity to learn using inquiry and hands on activities including scientific exploration, journaling, and role play. The standards for each lesson are listed for grades three through six.

As research is conducted showing that children learn better and retain more by being actively engaged, Bradford Woods becomes even more attractive to schools that are struggling with test scores and accountability. Learning in an outdoor classroom allows children to relate to the living world and connect theory with reality. Astute educators increasingly realize that children are performing better in all categories when they return to school.

Bradford Woods has come a long way since its first summer camp, when there were no buildings or amenities, but the same love of the outdoors that was present then persists today. And for more than 60 years, the unique Bradford Woods experience has been etched in the memories of thousands of children who have visited; children who are now parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents. As things progress, change, and improve, Bradford Woods will continue to teach how we’re each a part of the natural world that sustains us all.