Outdoor learning

After receiving $6,000 from the Lowe’s Small Toolbox for Education grant last year, Piney Grove Elementary School (PGES) has transformed their entire campus to make it more exciting for the children and to encourage outdoor learning that is tied to the curriculum.
Bonnie Adams, a science teacher at PGES, explained that Amie Snow, head of the grant writing committee, found out about the grant and applied for it last year. They received the grant in May 2018 and had to complete the project within a year.
After receiving some of their funding, Adams said they focused on outdoor learning centers. As Adams described all of the different outdoor learning and garden areas they created or updated, it was evident that they were sure to spread their funding throughout the school to give each and every student a chance for outdoor learning. With courtyards located in the middle of the school, and the many acres of land at PGES, there was plenty to work with.
In the fourth and fifth grade courtyard, Adams said they uprooted some old trees that were interrupting the pavement. Then, they added more shade by building a pergola that was large enough to seat a whole class with benches on three sides. This, Adams said, would enable students to read in a shaded spot or have a shaded outdoor classroom.
“On one side of the pergola, we have a double standing fossil pit, where fourth and fifth graders can do a lesson,” she said, adding that studying fossils is in the fourth-grade curriculum. “We also added flowerpots in that area because we spend a lot of time focusing on living things and organisms in kindergarten through third grades.”
Adams said they added windchimes, a bird bath and watering cans to keep up with the gardens.
Adams added that when it comes to the outdoors and gardens, students in all grades can benefit as kindergarteners learn about living things, first graders learn about organisms, second graders learn about the lifecycle of butterflies and animals, third graders learn about the lifecycle of plants, fourth graders learn about adaptations, and fifth graders learn about ecosystems.
“Our next step is to build a stone checkerboard as our surface inside the pergola, which will be done by Preferred Lawn and Garden, who have offered to do it for free,” she said. “This can be used for learning different strategies or team building. I like to create spaces that you can have multiple uses for.”
In the back-center courtyard, which was designed to be used by all grade levels, they added shade cloths, landscaping timbers and pine needles.
“We still have a large log to come that will be used for seating. We have flags and stands in that area,” Adams said. “We also have portable containers, which we have in several areas. We needed a more visible way for students to see the changes taking place in the lifecycle of plants instead of just going out to the garden beds once a week.”
Adams said the students are growing herbs and vegetables.
In the raised center courtyard, Adams said they refurbished the garden beds, which are getting a lot of use by the third graders because they have butterfly weeds out there with seed pods popping out that have beetles and pollinators flying around.
“We also added a garden for our EC students. For our EC students, we were able to make a Plants in your Pants project. They stuffed blue jean legs with soda bottles and put coco liners in the top with soil and plants such as succulents and marigolds,” she explained. “We also added lots of indoor plants around the building to help with air quality, and as an added visual.”
In the K1 courtyard, Adams said they added patio tables, chairs, umbrellas and three benches for each classroom, as well as watering cans.
“And we’ve added more shepherd’s hooks and windchimes out there to focus on curriculum – doing a sensory garden with three to four different types of windchimes,” she said, noting that they also added flags, a rain gauge, a root view area and perennials, all of which are great for learning about the weather and for beautification.
Adams said they added wildlife gardens near the car ride area, and chairs and seating areas.
Adams added that they refurbished the pollinator garden in the front of the school by adding new pine needles, flags, annuals, perennials, mulch and soil.
“We also built an outdoor platform for K1 for reading and weather watching,” she said. “We’re going to add a ramp to that to make it accessible,” she said.
Lowe’s Small Toolbox for Education grant program is funded by the Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation, which has supported thousands of grassroots communities and school projects in the communities where Lowe’s does business. For additional information, visit https://newsroom.lowes.com/apply-for-a-grant/.    

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