On Tuesday, April 25, NoVA Outside will put on its 6th annual School Environmental Action Showcase, or SEAS, at George Mason University. The day for students K-12 is an immersion in STEM, an opportunity for public speaking, an education about environmental stewardship and a career fair all rolled into one. Read More
Whether you’re an early childhood educator, a parent or a grandparent, there are tremendous benefits to getting children outdoors in nature. This Saturday, NoVA Outside is organizing a half-day conference called “Getting Kids Outdoors in Nature: Making it Happen” to provide support, strategies, ideas and the reasoning behind getting outside that will inspire any adult working with young children.
Landscape designer Nancy Striniste of EarlySpace LLC has helped hundreds of schools and parents transform their outdoor spaces into natural playscapes. This winter, she is offering a course called “Create Your Own Outdoor Magic” that is designed to help schools come up with their own playscape plan that will be ready to implement without having to hire a designer. The unique DIY program is a fundraiser for NoVA Outside, an alliance of environmental educators with which Nancy volunteers.
NoVA Outside is an alliance of environmental educators that promotes outdoor learning. This fall the group is hosting two events: a happy hour and resource fair on September 16 to connect educators of school-age children to resources for outdoor learning and an early childhood conference on October 1 that will inspire educators of young children and give them the tools to develop a robust outdoor program. Update 9/28/16: The October 1 conference has been postponed until March. Details forthcoming.
The fifth annual NoVA Outside School Environmental Action Showcase (SEAS) brought over 500 students from public schools, private schools and homeschooling groups in Ablemarle County, Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, and Falls Church to George Mason University to learn and share about environmental stewardship. The event, which took place on April 6, 2016, was put on in partnership with George Mason University Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center. and GMU’s Office of Sustainability. Read More
Even if this is a mild winter here in D.C., we’re still likely to have days when the school officials decide it’s too cold for kids to go outside to play. In fact, that’s already happened at my kids’ school! And yet, we all know that gross motor activity and connection to nature are super important for little beings, and really for all of us! So how to we make sure outdoor activity happens when temps our low? Read More
Attending Rooting DC is enough to make a person want to dig under the snow to get started gardening! The 8th annual gardening forum took place on Saturday, February 28 at the sparkling new Wilson High School in Tenleytown. Its tagline is: “An annual forum. A perennial movement.” With 1200 attending this day packed full with workshops and an exhibit area filled with experts, the event hosted by DC Greens was a huge success.
Leaders of Northern Virginia’s environmental education scene met last week to discuss recent renovations and sustainability initiatives taken at George C. Marshall High School in Fairfax County and to discuss plans for a possible statewide environmental education organization.
Members of the leadership team of NoVA Outside, an alliance of environmental educators, took a student-led tour of the school and its green features. The school’s student environmental organizations, Earth Force and the Native Species Club, sponsored by Barbara Brown have been busy for years on environmental initiatives and were successful at getting several environmental features and design components worked into the renovation.
NoVA Outside leadership team member Elenor Hodges shared some of the sustainability components that were worked into Marshall’s recent renovation. Hodges, a member of the Arlington Public Schools Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability and also the director of Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment said, “I was really impressed with what they had accomplished, specifically with the student-driven projects and the excitement and engagement of the students. It was very apparent that these were students who had come up with these ideas. I was inspired, and I hope that we can learn how to take a lot of what Arlington focuses on in LEED certification and take it to the level of using student leadership and student ideas.”
The best example at Marshall, Hodges said, was a green roof. A student who has since graduated wanted a green roof to be in a very visible location even if students did not have access to the roof. During the renovation, this was made possible. The money needed to install and expand the green roof was raised by students. The students who led the tour talked about what it does to reduce the school’s stormwater impact but also noted the fact that it’s a visible project that students can see every day. The students did the design, planning and fundraising for this and other projects. Hodges said Marshall has great examples of student initiatives as well as greenovation.
Hodges said there was also lots of student engagement with the two courtyards they viewed on the tour. One of which was a modern space for which, after the renovations, students in the Native Species Club designed a complementary landscape plan using native plants. One feature is this herb spiral that helps drain water down the courtyard.
Spring is a busy season for gardeners and, as the past few weeks have been busy for this parent just learning about school gardens. Three local schools with some amazing gardens have inspired me to take a more active role in my children’s school gardening program.
The non-profit group NoVA Outside held its third annual Early Childhood Outside conference on April 26 at Westlawn Elementary in the Falls Church section of Fairfax County. The morning began with an interactive keynote titled “Dancing Through the Natural World: Nature and Child-Initiated Choreography” given by Amanda Whiteman, Wolf Trap Master Teaching Artist, from the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning through the Arts . It was followed by several workshops and hands-on sessions, including the presentation “The Benefits of Outdoor Learning in the Elementary School” by two kindergarten teachers at the school, Carol Hunt and Libby Hagen.
The Discovery Area that these teachers were instrumental in building at Westlawn includes a garden, a digging area and hill, weather-resistant cabinets with small parts toys for creative play, several learning stations, and an Earth Loom designed by Cheryl Corson Design (like the one that was recently built at Brookside Gardens in Maryland) into which children can weave flowers, leaves, grass anything they dream up. The courtyard at Westlawn offered up even more great opportunities for learning, including a vernal pool.
I got even more inspired a few weeks later when I learned about another wonderful school garden from Christy Przystawik of Feeding Families Well. Christy teaches and coordinates the garden program at Peabody Elementary for the FoodPrints program of FRESHFARM Markets. She was so taken with the gardens at Stoddert Elementary in NW DC when the school held a recent inservice that she offered to take me on a visit.
Stoddert’s full-time garden coordinator is a position funded in part by DCPS and in part by the school PTA. Ms. Kealy works with two different grade levels per month, teaching each class two times per week so that they children can see things growing and changing. The lessons are an hour long and fit into the schedule as science. The classroom teacher stays during the lesson to assist or to break the class into two small groups.
The garden is maintained in part through weekly Monday afternoon open work times that might see 20 children and their parents as well as larger workdays a few times a year.
Over in north Arlington, Tuckahoe Elementary has a robust outdoor learning program thanks in part to PTA funding that supports a garden maintenance coordinator and to the school’s outdoor learning Exemplary Learning initiative that allocates a part-time position to Nancy Libson to create and implement outdoor curriculum. I hope to visit Tuckahoe soon, but one look at the Tuckahoe Discovery Garden and Outdoor Classroom website will have many a natural-minded parent drooling, and Nancy has many more lessons she told me she hasn’t even put up yet on the already-impressive outdoor curriculum page.
We here at Mindful Healthy Life would love to know about other great gardening and outdoor education programs in DC-area schools. We’d especially like to know about public schools that have made experiential learning work despite pressures to prepare students for standardized tests. Wonderful learning can occur through hands-on means, but those approaches might not be so apparent to teachers who haven’t had adequate training.
Please share in the comments (see the thought bubble in the green circle at the right toward the top of the post) or on our Facebook page about other schools or programs we should check out, or feel free to submit a piece about the program at your school.