My last post offered ideas for incorporating nature in the classroom. In follow-up to that post, I thought it would be useful to discuss ideas for incorporating nature in the schoolyard. Most schoolyards are surrounded by pavement, parking lots, and traditional playground equipment. Including more natural elements to the landscape can be a way to help connect students to the environment around them.
- Include natural elements on the playground. These can be items such as tree stumps for climbing on or for making a table and seating area; outdoor play kitchens where children can make mudpies and soups with leaves, sticks and other found objects; balance beams fashioned out of logs; or structures such as slides and swings built into and surrounded by the natural landscape. Got a great hill? Add a slide and a staircase to the hill and see how beautiful and fun it can be. Surround the sandbox area with stumps – they’ll make a great natural boarder, offer seats on the edge of the sandbox, and serve as an element to climb on and walk around and practice balance.
- Create a schoolyard habitat. Planting native vegetation and incorporating elements such as bird houses and baths and small ponds, will attract and support the local wildlife. Having the opportunity to see several bird, butterfly, insect, and amphibian species offers a fantastic learning experience for the students, and connects them to their environment.
- Start a school garden. Involving students in growing a school garden provides an opportunity for learning about botany, ecology, experimentation, math, food, and nutrition. Gardens can be an interdisciplinary tool for teaching. And because gardens can be as small or big as you’d like them to, and can be planted in anything ranging from small containers on a patio to raised beds on the ground to large areas dug in the ground, they are flexible and can meet the needs of your school. With school gardens, there is no better way to experience the interdependence of an ecosystem. When children see a bee on a tomato flower, the relationship between plant and insect becomes real.
- Set up a weather station. We experience the weather everyday. It is a direct connection to the environment beyond the classroom walls. Installing a weather station at the school is a way to help children make observations about and understand the weather. How neat would it be if students could predict a storm based on their observations about the barometric pressure? Not only could students hone their observation skills, but they get first-hand experience with scientific tools. And, a daily weather station check adds more concrete evidence for the weather discussion at morning meeting (at the preschool and elementary level).
- Build outside sitting areas and learning spaces. Picnic tables in a garden. Stump circles as a gathering place. Chairs scattered through the landscape. These offer quiet places for relaxing, observing, and enjoying nature. They also offer quiet places where class could be brought outside. With clipboards and pencils or books in hand, learning can be portable. Silent reading time can be done outside. Scientific observations can be made in the great outdoors. Math problems can be solved in fresh air. Why not seize the chance to learn al fresco when opportunity allows?
Adding a natural element to the schoolyard can take time. But even if one small project occurs per school year, that provides more opportunities for interacting with nature than what existed before. Remember it is a process. Work on small pieces at a time. Within a few years, the projects add up and a transformation happens.
For further reading on the above ideas, check out these links: