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.
When I learned that Jessica Wallach of Portrait Playtime was going to teach a photography-themed camp at the nature-loving Eastern Ridge School in Vienna, Virginia, I had to share this unique opportunity! My son just completed a wonderful photography enrichment program at his school, and I couldn’t be more excited for him to explore his creativity through a lens.
For seven years, Jessica Wallach has been capturing the natural beauty of families as part of her business. She loves engaging people, especially young people, to show their passions and explore who they are. Read on to get the scoop on her photography-themed camp being offered July 7-11 for children entering grades 2 through 5. Hours of the camp are 8:30 to 3:00 with before and after care available for an additional fee. Lunch and morning snack come from home; a healthy, gluten-free afternoon snack is provided by ERS.
ERS is offering a special deal to one lucky winner of our promotion: one $75 discount for the camp, normally priced at $415. Additionally, any entrant to this promotion who wishes to register will be sent a code for $15 off. The promotion campaign will start tomorrow and expire Wednesday, June 18 at 11:59 p.m.
Background on Photography Camp teacher Jessica Wallach
Jessica loves to teach and to encourage people to share their voice and vision. Since 2012, she has been running an art camp for Fairfax County Parks and Rec in which she gives children a bigger sense of themselves and their ability to tell their stories using a wide variety of art media. She is thrilled to lead a photography camp at ERS. “There is such a wide variety of things to capture with our lenses, we will never do the exact same thing twice, but always build on what came before and take it three steps further,” she says. She loves the “magical” meadow of ERS as a prime location for exploring photography.
Q&A with Jessica Wallach
Mindful Healthy Life: What do you like about working with children?
Jessica Wallach: I love working with young people, putting out an idea and seeing where their minds run with it or taking their idea and weaving something about photography into it. In my last few children’s photography classes, it’s great that we get to that point where they start coming up with ideas about what to do next. I also love incorporating play into whatever I do, and kids’ first language is play, so we are a natural fit.
Also I think young people of this generation are going to use cameras and photos to both learn and express what they know in a way that has never been seen before. A camera will become as common as using a pencil and paper was in my elementary school. I have a passion for exploring this with young people.
Just the other day, I asked the children in my class to tell me things they know and then we talked about how we would show that through pictures. …I said I knew that mass cannot be destroyed, it just changes form and I could take a photo of an ice cube in a frying pan as it melts and then evaporates. One student said she could show how the sky changes color as the sun goes down and that she could take a photo of the sky and a clock at different times of the afternoon and early evening.
MHL: How did you come to be involved with Eastern Ridge School?
JW: My daughter went to the predecessor, Discovery Woods Learning Community, for years and I worked as a photographer there on and off. I spent a ton of time behind the camera there, from capturing students at work and play to doing photo fundraisers to documenting family gatherings and workdays to teaching the teachers how to use their camera’s better. I tell you it is a magical place that just begs you to pick up your camera. Early on I assisted with ERS’s marketing and they use some of my photos on their website.
MHL: How is ERS different from other schools and camps?
JW: My favorite thing about ERS is the central theme that children are smart, capable and need scaffolding to get to do the next big thing. As teachers, we facilitate their learning, never forcing, always remembering they are capable and that we work from their strengths and build on them.
Another way ERS is different is that art, nature and scientific inquiry are the basis for learning. We are outside all the time. It is just the way things are.
MHL: How will you structure the camp?
The camp is structured to keep the kids interested in photography by balancing structured activities and unstructured play time. The hope is that the unstructured time will inform and inspire our photography. If kids love running in the meadow, how do we capture that? If they make a city in the sand box, can we do a stop action video made up of tons of photos showing life in that city? If they get bored with the photography, we will go play. The schedule will change according to what the young people need to do that day.
Here is the basic schedule:
- Free Play: slideshow going and books filled with photos on the table for kids to look at if interested
- Sit spots or nature walk in meadow with cameras
- Morning meeting: discuss what we did the day before & what we could observe that could change that day; decide on day’s activities
- Observational photography
- Activity Block 1
- Free play: encourage running a lap, rolling stumps, climbing trees…activities where the children can physically go all out.
- Activity Block II
- Look at photos, editing, creating mini movies
MHL: What will children walk away with?
Children will walk away with a sharpened set of skills, a large number of gorgeous images, and some videos of their work. We will set up an online gallery just for this camp which we will upload to every afternoon. From there, we will make videos using our stills and video clips and Pro Show Web/Producer. At the end of the week, we would love parents to join us for a showcase.
Through the camp we will be practicing the following skills and they will walk away with a slew of photos that helped them practice these skills:
- How to work a camera
- Telling a story
- Creating art for art’s sake
- Using a camera in the investigation/scientific process
- Using camera to take notes
MHL: What kind of device do children need? Will there be a lot of screen time?
JW: Children can use a point and shoot, smart phone, iPad or DSLR. All of them will capture photos and offer many options that will provide many learning opportunities.
Viewing and editing photos is a critical part of this camp experience. We will be looking at screens to do both of those activities. We will be looking at our photos and others to figure out what we like and don’t like and be inspired. Most likely much of our editing will be done communally on one computer and/or in small groups.
MHL: Will there be any collaborative projects or will everything be individual per student?
JW: There will be both collaborative and individual projects and how much of each will depend on group interest. Campers will be presented with these choices during morning meeting and we will figure out together when we will do what. Some projects we will most likely do include:
- Storytelling, stop action video, hybrid photography…children design a little life or big life story, capture it on camera, put it together as a movie.
- Being inspired by others photography and then creating photographs in a similar fashion
- Photo scavenger hunts
- Photos of water, dripping, moving fast, still
- Photos of people and things in motion
- Macro photography in the garden
- Bug hunt
- Something that changes
- Shade garden: The way things work
- In the dark with flash light
- Other campers
- Create a how to set of photos or video
- Reading a book and taking photos that represent what we read
- Field guide photos
- Photos that show what you know
- Photos that say something about yourself
- Photos that show how you feel
- Photos that ask a question
- Capturing things they do
- Free choice camera work
MHL: Anything else you’d like to add?
JW: I am so excited about this camp. It will be amazing to spend a week immersed in photography and play at ERS.
For those unfamiliar with ERS, the camp coordinator, an ERS parent, shared this additional information:
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.
Learning outdoors and creating with nature can be beautiful and fun, but for some educators, the how-tos are not obvious. On Saturday, April 26, the non-profit organization NoVA Outside is providing inspirational speakers and some hands-on professional development at its Early Childhood Outside conference, this year with the theme of “The Arts in Nature.”
The event will showcase the teacher-created natural playspace at site host Westlawn Elementary School in Falls Church and will feature a Keynote by Amanda Whiteman, Wolf Trap Master Teaching Artist, breakout sessions, hands-on outdoor learning stations, featuring The Earth Loom, and practical ideas attendees can implement in their programs. A full schedule is available on the NoVA Outside website.
Many teachers can get stuck in a rut of doing things in a way that feels safe and predictable, but NoVA Outside Early Childhood planning committee member Peggy Ashbrook argues that everything is better outdoors. “Outdoor experiences are so much richer than indoor experiences because changes happen every minute in nature. “
The committee is excited to welcome their featured sponsor, Wolf Trap Early Learning Institute, for a day that will have educators and parents exploring dance, music, drawing, weaving and more as pathways to learning. Sandra Redmore, co-chair of the NoVA Outside Early Childhood committee, said, “Creativity naturally evolves and is strengthened outdoors. Nature is dynamic, unpredictable and multi-sensory, full of easily observable patterns and relationships, making the outdoors an ideal setting for young children to learn through the arts.”
The event runs 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The third annual event is closed for online registration, but walk-ins are welcome.
Green teams, eco-clubs, Earth Force crews: environmentally-aware students of all stripes came out to the April 10 School Environmental Action Showcase (SEAS) held at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts and on the blossom-filled grounds around Mason Pond. The event was the third annual showcase organized by NoVA Outside, a coalition of environmental educators that is in the process of becoming a non-profit organization.
This year, some 800 people participated from over 30 schools in Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria and Falls Church and 30 partnering organizations in addition to 40 invited VIPs. The lobby of the Arts Center turned into an expo filled with rows of tables where schools shared their pride in eco efforts on tri-fold displays. Students spent one of the rotations of the day staffing their table to explain to their peers what initiatives their schools had undertaken in the realm of environmental awareness. These included gardens, inventive recycling programs, energy awareness campaigns and more.
Students shared excitedly what they’d learned from other schools’ exhibits. Some schools actively promoted action items; Arlington’s H-B Woodlawn’s Earth Force team is hoping to get everyone to Turn Out the Lights from 10:00 to 10:30 p.m. on April 26 and circulated information about this energy-saving initiative.
The event began at 10:00 with a keynote address by Cassandre Arkema and Antonio Mestre of Arlington’s Washington-Lee High School. Students then cycled through rotations that included exhibiting in the Center for the Arts and enjoying hands-on activities outside on the lawn above Mason Pond. It was the perfect day to celebrate learning outside!
Dozens of professionals committed to environmental awareness showcased their projects under two large tents. Exhibitors included nature centers and science-based organizations with microscopes and wildlife displays, education programs like Arcadia Farm and School for the Future, businesses with eco-friendly products including WormWatcher.com showing its compost bin and Tom Noll with his new children’s book, The Bicycle Fence (which he donated to our Earth Day opening giveaway), the first in the Recycling Creatively with L.T. series, to be followed soon by a book about raising chickens for eggs.
The Fairfax Stormwater Planning Division invited students to investigate pond water and displayed a Field Guide it produced last year that has been given to all Fairfax County 5th grade students. It seemed thoroughly possible to spend almost the entire day outside doing experiments and talking to to experts in their fields.
But there was so much more inside! Middle school students on Earth Force teams had the opportunity to showcase their own research on the question of “What can you do to improve your watershed?” The “Caring For Our Watersheds” competition gave out thousands of dollars to competing teams, including first- and second-place winners George Washington Middle School and third place Kenmore Middle School.
This was the second year for the Caring for our Watersheds competition and the first year that SEAS hosted the KidWind Challenge, which has students explore the power of wind energy and design and create a functional wind turbine. The middle school winner was Lanier Middle School, and Jack Jouett Middle School won the open division. National KidWind Challenge takes place here in town on the National Mall on Saturday, April 26.
Last year I volunteered to help out at the event, but this year, with the busyness of launching this site, I made only enough time t show up and enjoy it! It was thrilling to see children so engaged and learning from one another and from people in positions they might someday hold, now that they know about all the ways one can make a career out of environmentalism. The day seemed like the best kind of field trip, one that helped students connect what they were learning to the real world, both in terms of consequences and environmental awareness and also awareness about opportunities to work in the field. For a nice snapshot of the SEAS event, check it out on Storify.
NoVA Outside is putting on its third Early Childhood Outside Conference also on April 26 at Westlawn Elementary school in Fairfax with the theme “The Arts in Nature” and is also sponsoring a book discussion on May 13 about Adventure: The Importance of Risk in Children’s Play.
Related articles from TheDCMoms.com
There are a number of preschools in the DC area that I call “outdoor-happy preschools” — places where children are expected to bring weather-appropriate clothing and go outside every day. I was heartened to learn about the options when I was doing research for an article on TheDCMoms.com.
I was inspired to do the piece after hearing about the newly formed Eastern Ridge School in Vienna, Virginia, a reimagining of what was previously called Discovery Woods and now a non-profit organization formed by teachers and parents. The program at ERS goes from age two through 10.
Two teachers from ERS came to a networking meeting of an organization of environmental educators called NoVA Outside. (Make sure to check out their “Arts in Nature” 3rd annual Early Childhood Outside conference on Saturday, April 26). It was at that meeting that I met Jessica Culverhouse, author of today’s piece and now a parent at ERS, which is having an open house on April 27 for prospective parents for school programs in 2014-15 and for summer camp.
Here is Jessica Culverhouse’s “5 Reasons We Love Our Nature Preschool”
Just a couple of months ago, my 2-year-old son, James, started at The Eastern Ridge School, a progressive, nature- and arts-based school in Great Falls. With my background in science and environmental education, I was already familiar with the research on the long-term benefits of unstructured outdoor play and constructivist and project-based learning on students. We knew that in choosing Eastern Ridge, we’d help our son to develop confidence, maturity, critical thinking skills, and a respect for the natural world. What I wasn’t prepared for were the amazing short-term benefits of such an environment on my young son.
Here are just 5 of the many reasons we love our nature preschool.
1. He is happy. What else matters, really? James loves school. He isn’t quite equipped to tell us this in so many words, but he sure tries! Each day we receive photos and videos of James learning, exploring, and having fun with his teachers and friends. When I drop him off in the morning, it doesn’t take long before he is busily engaged with an activity. When my husband arrives to pick him up, he excitedly shows his dad everything he has been working on that day.
2. He eats better. We struggled for the first two years of James’ life with low weight – he was just not interested in food. He is now at a healthy weight and happily eats 3 meals and several snacks each day. Whether this is due to the active days at Eastern Ridge or the delicious, healthful food served for lunch and snacks is unclear, but we are happy to see his appetite grow. (As a side note, I must reiterate how amazing the food is at Eastern Ridge. Raw veggies for morning snack, healthful whole grains, proteins, fruits, and vegetables for lunch, and a yogurt parfait for an afternoon treat. We should all eat so well!)
3. He sleeps better. With plenty of fresh air and active outdoor play, James naps well at school and sleeps hard at night. Of course this is very important for his growth and development, but I must say I enjoy the additional rest, myself!
4. He is nurtured. The teachers and staff at Eastern Ridge School are caring, creative, and passionate. James is so well taken care of and the days are paced so naturally that I never worry that he is experiencing stress or needs additional attention.
5. He is dirty. Yes, we have lots of laundry, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Muddy pants, wet socks, and paint-soaked sweatshirts come home with James every day. In my book there is no better indicator of whether a child had a great day than the (lack of) cleanliness of his clothing.
Jessica Culverhouse works in fundraising for an environmental nonprofit. She is mama to James and wife to David, a volunteer Master Naturalist, and a former environmental educator and Biology teacher who loves nothing more than spending time outside with her family.
Mindful Healthy Life of Metro DC would like to run more profiles of other special places that have found a way to get children in the shadow of the nation’s capital to connect to nature. Share ideas in the comments and check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.